Sunday, October 13, 2013

'Success with Iran & Syria's CWs means raised concerns in Riyadh'

'As fragile signs of a solution to the political turmoil that has preoccupied all the top decision makers begin to emerge, it is easy to overlook some of the changes that are taking place in US foreign and security policy. In his meeting with the Russian foreign minister at the ASEAN summit Secretary of State Kerry consolidated the earlier agreements on Syria and Iran. Whether by design or luck, the Administration’s new approach to the Middle East is taking shape. We discern genuine optimism in Washington that the removal of chemical weapons stands a good chance of success. This in turn will set the stage for new efforts to convene a peace conference at which the Syrian opposition will have to moderate its ambitions. At the next week’s P5+1 talks with Iran a sense of opportunity – albeit moderated by realism – also predominates. Discreet exchanges with Tehran in advance of the meeting have raised expectations that the Iranian side is not simply playing for time. State Department officials have little trouble dismissing the protests of the Israeli defense minister. By contrast, one area which is raising concern behind the scenes is relations with Saudi Arabia. The partial suspension of military aid for Egypt coming on top of the nascent rapprochement with Iran has stimulated a questioning of US reliability in Riyadh. Administration officials are working hard to reassure the Saudis – as yet with limited success.  Similarly in the concern column are developments in negotiations with Afghanistan over the number and mission of US troops to remain in country post the 2014 withdrawal. Counter-terrorism officials are deeply worried that a vacuum could arise should an agreement on this front fail during Kerry’s current visit....'

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