And in Friday’s meeting between Obama and King Abdullah, he’s poised to stand against Obama administration policy on Iran and Syria.2:38 PM, Mar 27, 2014 • By HUSSAIN ABDUL-HUSSAIN
Friday’s meeting in Riyadh between King Abdullah and President Obama is likely to be a tense one. First, there’s the fact that the Saudis and the White House differ on a host of regional issues, from Egypt and Bahrain to Syria and Iran. Moreover, there are also the secondary players likely to be in attendance, one of which from each side the other considers a nuisance. The Saudis think that newly named National Security Council staffer Robert Malley is an irritant, and the White House doesn’t like Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief and formerly longtime ambassador to Washington.
For the Saudis’ taste, Malley, who worked on the Arab-Israeli peace process in the Clinton administration, got too close with Syrian regime officials when he was program director for Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group. From Riyadh’s perspective, Malley’s appointment merely confirms their worst fears about Obama’s regional strategy—U.S. rapprochement with a host of figures it considers deadly adversaries, from Assad to Iran and Hezbollah, and at the expense of the Saudis and other longtime U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf.
For the Obama administration, Bandar, a former Washington power player and Bush family confidante, is a thorn in its side. First, he’s been publicly critical of White House policy, frequently leaking anti-Obama tidbits to the U.S. press. He’s also reached out to Vladimir Putin in an effort to buy arms from the Russians—and show up the White House. Speculation in Saudi circles is that the last straw was when Secretary of State John Kerry requested a meeting with him during a trip to Riyadh only to be told that since Bandar was on his way out of town that they meet at the airport. From the administration’s perspective, the problem with US-Saudi relations isn’t the White House’s and Riyadh’s diverging regional policies, but Bandar himself. The White House allegedly pushed to have Bandar put on administrative leave, and suddenly the man who had revived Riyadh’s Syria policy was out of the headlines. While Saudi spokesmen repeatedly explained that the prince was on travel for health reasons, in Marrakesh most recently for shoulder surgery, rumor was that the kingdom had succumbed to U.S. pressure by sidelining its top spy.
Now that Bandar appears to be back, perhaps Friday he’ll ask the American side why it compelled Jordan to shut down its border to arms shipments going to rebels in southern Syria. This action may have tipped the balance of power against the rebels and on behalf of Bashar al-Assad’s allied forces in the battle for Yabroud.
The Syrian opposition had believed that opening a southern front might distract Assad from his siege of Yabroud, a town northwest of Damascus, and force him to redeploy some of his assets. Rebels therefore launched an offensive from areas they control around the town of Quneitra and scored some successes. When they sought rearmament through a cross point they control on the Syrian border with Jordan, Amman shut down the arms route, and the Quneitra front faltered as Assad managed to retake control without having to reinforce his own troops. Less than two weeks later, the joint Assad-Hezbollah-Iraqi forces swept through Yabroud.
Even if Jordan takes its orders from Washington to shut down its borders, Turkey might be a different story. Gulf sources believe that Turkey has an interest in preventing a linkup between the Alawis of northern Syria and those in its southern province of Hatay, and thus has facilitated a rebel advance to the strategic border crossing of Kasab, which overlooks the coast. Sources also argue that the Syrian MiG shot down earlier this week was brought down not by Turkish ground fire but an F-16—moreover, Gulf sources say, the Syrian jet was targeted not in Turkish airspace, but Syrian and when the pilot ejected he went down in Syrian territory. In other words, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be eager to revive his pro-Syrian revolution credentials and play a more active role in the crisis—to cut Turkey’s Alawi community off from their Syrian brethren, and perhaps in order to deflect attention away from corruption scandals that are hitting him hard at home.
But interim deal with Iran puts the White House and its traditional Middle East allies in opposing camps.2:52 PM, Nov 25, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
In the wake of the interim deal that the White House signed with Iran Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry said on the Sunday talk shows that nothing has changed, not with the American position in the Middle East, or with the U.S. alliance system in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is screaming his head off, but Israel has nothing to worry about says Kerry.
Saudi Arabia would prefer not to. Nov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08 • By JOHN BOLTON
On October 17, Saudi Arabia was elected by the United Nations General Assembly to a nonpermanent seat on the Security Council.
3:07 PM, Oct 9, 2013 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
On October 2, Arab media reported that a Kuwaiti radical Muslim television preacher, Tareq Suwaidan, was prohibited from visiting Saudi Arabia. Suwaidan had sought to go to Mecca to perform “umrah,” a shorter version of the annual hajj pilgrimage.
8:18 AM, Sep 19, 2013 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Against the expectation of many observers, social change continues in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Recent reforms have particularly affected the status of women. At the end of August, the Saudis took a remarkable and surprising step by criminalizing domestic violence. As reported in the London Independent, the Saudi cabinet “passed a ban on domestic violence and other forms of abuse against women for the first time in the Kingdom’s history.”
A view through the two-way mirror of Saudi Arabia.Jan 14, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 17 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
If I were of a cynical nature, I might suspect that this volume possesses an agenda beyond explaining the world’s most important and least predictable Muslim country to Westerners. But an awkward combination of a pretentious title and a lightweight style employed by its author should not distract Saudi-watchers and other interested readers from the importance of this work.
8:19 AM, Nov 28, 2012 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Early in November, the Saudi Arabian government announced the replacement of interior minister Prince Ahmed Bin Abdul Aziz, named to the post in June of this year, after the death of Prince Nayef, his elder brother.
2:54 PM, Nov 8, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
The U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Smith, told the Arabic news outlet Asharq Al-Awsat that American foreign policy will now change after President Barack Obama's reelection. Smith made the comments at an election night party at his residence.
6:15 AM, Oct 25, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
A post in the Wall Street Journal blog covering India suggests relations are souring between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, long the main instrument of Riyadh’s ideological influence over South Asian Muslims. The desert monarchy has extradited several terrorist suspects to India, under a treaty signed between the two countries in 2010. Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari was sent to India in June, A. Rayees was deported by the Saudis to New Delhi in October, and Fasih Muhammad, last week.
6:05 PM, Oct 9, 2012 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
In the seven years since King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz assumed the throne of Saudi Arabia, the absolute monarch, whose reformist aspirations are widely believed to be sincere, has attempted to curb some of the outrageous human rights violations for which the desert kingdom is known.
3:20 PM, Aug 20, 2012 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Media bias consists of more than partial quotes, deliberate misreporting, and economy with the truth. Doubt that, and read the New York Times last week, reporting—on page one—“U.S. Reliance on Saudi Oil Goes Back Up: Security Concerns Rise With Gulf Imports.” If you think this has anything to do with the president’s decision to veto the Keystone Pipeline, think again, or look for a more balance report.
3:59 PM, Aug 1, 2012 • By ALI H. ALYAMI
For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, Saudi women are being allowed by their ultra-conservative government to compete. As the Saudi athletes marched in the opening ceremonies in London, the women’s faces and open arms showed a joyful sense of emancipation from the yoke of political, religious, and traditional marginalization. By the standards of free and advanced societies, the advance is small, but by Saudi standards, it is a gigantic step forward, with far-reaching implications for Saudi Arabia and the international community.
12:00 AM, Jul 26, 2012 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
For 22 years, Bandar bin Sultan was Saudi Arabia’s influential, irrepressible ambassador in Washington. After years in eclipse, he has just been named as head of the kingdom’s intelligence service. What does it all mean?
7:25 AM, Jul 24, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Last week, the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report and held hearings on the giant British-based HSBC bank. HSBC Holdings was ranked as the sixth-largest public company in the world by Forbes in 2011, with assets of $2.5 trillion.
8:05 AM, Jun 22, 2012 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
The death last week of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Nayef Bin Abd Al-Aziz, aged 78 and heir to his half-brother, King Abdullah Bin Abd Al-Aziz, was not immediately foreseen by the Saudi public.