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Saudi Arabia Moves to Confront Regional Rivals

Disarray in the Persian Gulf reflects White House Middle East policy.

11:49 AM, Mar 24, 2014 • By HUSSAIN ABDUL-HUSSAIN
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Kuwait again tried its hand with mediation as it prepared to host the Arab Summit. But this time Saudi leaders told their Kuwaiti counterparts that while they value their friendship, they were not in the mood for reconciliation with Qatar, Oman or Iraq, effectively under Iranian tutelage now thanks to the divisive sectarian policies of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Therefore, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman, who came to Kuwait City in December for the Gulf summit, will likely be skipping the Arab summit. UAE's Sheikh Mohamed and Bahrain's King Hamad bin Issa, who both participated in December, have already announced their decision not to attend. 

To avoid offending the host country and keep the Kuwaitis from losing face, the Saudis leaked through their official media that Gulf mediation would resume after the summit. However, according to sources here, there will be no rapprochement between the Saudis and the Qataris. Moreover, Riyadh is planning to further escalate against Doha by closing airspace to Qatari overflights and outbidding the Qataris in Syria and Egypt in order to shut down the Islamists—and Qatar’s adventurist regional policy.

It is against this background of internal GCC dissension that Obama will arrive in Riyadh later this week to meet King Abdullah. Sources on both sides explain that Obama will "assure" the Saudis that the alliance between the two countries remains strong, and that the administration is committed to the security of Saudi Arabia against any foreign aggression and that Riyadh should not fear that US-Iranian negotiations will come at Saudi’s expense.

The Saudis will listen, but with reservations. From their perspective, Obama has scrapped most of America's past arrangements with the Saudi kingdom, arrangements first forged when President Roosevelt met with the founder of modern Saudi Arabia King Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud on Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake in 1944.  The deal was that in exchange for holding the balance of power of the world's oil reservoir, the United States would protect the Saudis against all comers. Now Riyadh feels that it is on its own, and the Saudis are not in the mood for the empty promises that the Obama White House calls diplomacy. Instead, the Saudis are moving aggressively to confront adversaries, from GCC rivals like Qatar to Gulf revolutionaries like Iran.

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