US relations with Saudi Arabia are always something of a proverbial black box. And President Barack Obama’s meeting with Saudi King Abdullah last month was no exception. A late add-on to Obama’s planned June itinerary to Egypt, Germany, and France and conducted at King Abdullah’s horse ranch outside of Riyadh, the June 3 meeting was quickly overtaken by coverage of Obama’s high-profile June 4 speech to the Muslim world from Cairo.
But two sources, one a former U.S. official who recently traveled there and one a current official speaking anonymously, say the meeting did not go well from Obama’s perspective. What’s more, the former official says that Dennis Ross has told associates that part of what prompted Obama to bring him on as his special assistant and NSC senior director for the “Central Region” last month was the president’s feeling that the preparation for the trip was insufficient. The White House vigorously disputes all of that, some of which was previously reported by the New York Times.
Sources say Obama was hoping to persuade the king to be ready to show reciprocal gestures to Israel, which Washington has been pushing to halt settlements with the goal of advancing regional peace and the creation of a Palestinian state.
“The more time goes by, the more the Saudi meeting was a watershed event,” said the former U.S. official who recently traveled to Riyadh. “It was the first time that President Obama as a senator, candidate, or president was not able to get almost anything or any movement using his personal power of persuasion.” [continued…]
The U.S. should proceed cautiously in its engagement strategy with Iran, while moving quickly toward final-status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, according to a new report by a team of veteran diplomats and Middle East policymakers.
The policy paper, released Wednesday by the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), an organisation that promotes U.S. diplomatic engagement in the Middle East, expresses support for President Barack Obama’s ambitious Middle East strategy.
Entitled “After Cairo and Iran: Next Steps for U.S. Diplomacy in the Middle East“, it recommends continuing attempts to engage Iran, but shifting primarily to back-channel rather than public talks in response to the recent political turmoil following June’s disputed presidential elections. [continued…]
Thousands of road signs are the latest front in Israel’s battle to erase the Arab heritage from much of the Holy Land, according to critics in both Israel and the wider Arab world.
Israel Katz, the transport minister, announced this week that signs on all major roads in Israel, East Jerusalem and possibly parts of the West Bank would be “standardised”, converting English and Arabic place names into straight transliterations of the Hebrew name.
Currently, road signs include the place name as it is traditionally rendered in all three languages.
Under the new scheme, the Arab identity of important Palestinian communities will be obscured: Jerusalem, or “al Quds” in Arabic, will be Hebraised to “Yerushalayim”; Nazareth, or “al Nasra” in Arabic, the city of Jesus’s childhood, will become “Natzrat”; and Jaffa, the port city after which Palestine’s oranges were named, will be “Yafo”. [continued…]