Al Jazeera reports: Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister who is currently on a tour of the Gulf states, has appealed to Saudi Arabia to work with Iran towards achieving regional stability.
He said on Monday in Doha, Qatar, after visits to Kuwait and Oman for meetings on its recent nuclear deal with world powers that his goal was to assure Gulf Arab states that the deal was in their best interests.
“We believe that Iran and Saudi Arabia should work together in order to promote peace and stability in the region,” Zarif told AFP news agency.
Zarif suggested the deal should not be seen as a threat.
“This agreement cannot be at the expense of any country in the region,” he said on Sunday. [Continue reading...]
Rami G. Khouri writes: The most striking implication of the agreement signed in Geneva last weekend to ensure that Iran’s nuclear industry does not develop nuclear weapons while gradually removing the sanctions on the country is more about Iran than it is about Iran’s nuclear industry. The important new dynamic that has been set in motion is likely to profoundly impact almost every significant political situation around the Middle East and the world, including both domestic conditions within countries and diplomatic relations among countries.This agreement breaks the long spell of estrangement and hostility between the U.S. and Iran, and signals important new diplomatic behavior by both countries, which augurs well for the entire region. It is also likely to trigger the resumption of the suspended domestic political and cultural evolution of Iran, which also will spur new developments across the Middle East.
Perhaps we can see the changes starting to occur in Iran as similar to the developments in Poland in the early 1980s, when the bold political thrust of the Solidarity movement that enjoyed popular support broke the Soviet Union’s hold on Polish political life, and a decade later led to the collapse of the entire Soviet Empire. The resumption of political evolution inside Iran will probably move rapidly in the years ahead, as renewed economic growth, more personal freedoms, and more satisfying interactions with the region and the world expand and strengthen the relatively “liberal” forces around Rouhani, Rafsanjani, Khatami and others; this should slowly temper, then redefine and reposition, the Islamic revolutionary autocrats who have controlled the power structure for decades but whose hard-line controls are increasingly alien to the sentiments of ordinary Iranians.
These domestic and regional reconfigurations will occur slowly, comprising the situations in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf Cooperation Council states led by Saudi Arabia. The critical link remains a healthy, normal, nonhostile relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which I suspect will start to come about in the months ahead, as both grasp the exaggerated nature of their competition for influence in the region and learn to behave like normal countries. They will learn to compete on the basis of their soft power among a region of half a billion people who increasingly feel and behave like citizens who have the right to choose how they live, rather than to be dictated to and herded like cattle. [Continue reading...]
Al Jazeera reports: Saudi Arabia has said an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear programme could be a step towards a comprehensive solution – and hoped it could lead to the removal of WMD from the Middle East.
“The government of the kingdom sees that if there was goodwill, this agreement could represent a preliminary step towards a comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear programme,” the cabinet said in a statement.
It said the deal could eventually lead “to the removal of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, from the Middle East and the Arab Gulf region”.
The Wall Street Journal reports: Saudi Arabia maintained a pointed silence Sunday on the new nuclear pact between world powers and Saudi Arabia’s top rival, Iran, while other Gulf and Arab states gave a cautious welcome to a deal hoped to ease tensions in a region bloodied by proxy battles between Shiite Iran and Sunni Arab states.
Saudi political commentators voiced persistent fears that Iran would now see itself as freed to advance on other, non-nuclear fronts against its Middle East rivals.
By early Monday in the Middle East, most of the region’s Muslim powers — Turkey, Egypt, and at least four of the six wealthy Arab Gulf countries — had issued statements expressing support for the deal. The United Arab Emirates., a commerce-minded nation that traditionally has thrived on doing business with both Iran and Arab states, welcomed the deal as one it hoped would protect the region “from the tension and danger of nuclear proliferation,” the emirates’ council of ministers said.
Saudi Arabia, the most powerful of the Arab states and the most intensely suspicious rival of Shiite Iran, made no public comment on the pact Sunday, and its foreign ministry didn’t return requests for comment. [Continue reading...]
The Wall Street Journal reports: ‘The U.S. has to have a foreign policy. Well-defined, well-structured. You don’t have it right now, unfortunately. It’s just complete chaos. Confusion. No policy. I mean, we feel it. We sense it, you know.”
Members of the Saudi royal family have voiced their displeasure with the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East through private channels and recently in public as well. None of them puts it quite like HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud.
One of some three-dozen living grandsons of the first Saudi King Abdulaziz, this prince is a prominent but atypical royal. His investment company made him the Arab world’s richest businessman. He strikes a modern image for a Saudi, employing female aides and jet-setting on a private Boeing. He’s at ease with Western media.
Passing through New York earlier this week, Mr. Alwaleed, who is 58, sits down with the Journal editorial board between a couple of television appearances. He wears a blue suit, shirt and tie. These days, his bouffant widow’s peak has more salt than pepper. The prince holds no important government post in Saudi Arabia, but it’s hard to shake the impression that here is the uncensored id of the reserved House of Saud.
“America is shooting itself in the foot,” he says. “Saudi Arabia and me, myself, we love the United States. But what’s happening right now here, from Republicans and Democrats, is just not helping the image of the United States and is making this perception that America is going down a reality.” [Continue reading...]
Christopher Dickey writes: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once famous in Washington for his cigars, parties and charm, is now Saudi Arabia’s point man, fighting Iran in Syria and denouncing the Obama administration.
When the prince was the ambassador he was the toast of Washington, and plenty of toasts there were. Bandar bin Sultan smoked fine cigars and drank finer Cognac. For almost 30 years as Saudi Arabia’s regal messenger, lobbyist, and envoy, he told amazing stories about politicians and potentates, some of which, surprisingly, were true. Washington journalists loved him. Nobody had better access to more powerful people in higher places, or came with so much money, so quietly and massively distributed, to help out his friends.
Over the years, Bandar arranged to lower global oil prices in the service of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and both the Bushes. At the behest of the CIA’s Bill Casey, and behind the back of Congress, Bandar arranged for the Saudis to bankroll anti-Communist wars in Nicaragua, Angola and Afghanistan. He was thick with Dick Cheney, and he was so tight with the George H.W. Bush clan—the father, the mother, the sons, the daughters—that they just called him “Bandar Bush.”
Now, the prince is a spy, or, more precisely, the master spy of the Middle East. He is the point man for a vast Saudi program of covert action and conspicuous spending that helped overthrow the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and is attempting to forge a new “Army of Islam” in Syria. Without understanding the man and his mission, there’s no way, truly, to understand what’s happening in the world’s most troubled region right now.
Bandar’s goal is to undermine Iranian power: strip away Tehran’s allies like Assad and Hezbollah; stop the Shiite mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons; roll back their regional designs; and push them out of office if there’s any way to do that.
At the same time, he aims to crush the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni organization that pays lip service to democracy and is fundamentally anti-monarchy.
The Bandar program makes for some interesting alliances. Never mind that there’s no peace treaty between Saudi Arabia and Israel, in these parts, as they say too often, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and Bandar has become the de facto anti-Iran ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. [Continue reading...]
Jonathan Steele writes: France’s scuppering of the carefully negotiated interim nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers was reckless but not unexpected. As a brazen affront to the Obama administration’s desire to mend relations with Tehran after 35 years it needs to be linked to Saudi Arabia’s recent and similarly abrupt repudiation of US policy on Syria. A historic shift is under way in US strategy towards the Middle East. After decades of isolating or overthrowing regimes that profess independence, Washington has decided that its long-term interests are better served by stability than subversion.
The shift has been caused by several factors: the unforeseen popular uprisings which led to the Arab spring and are still bringing unpredictable consequences; the incomplete revolt in Syria which has led to a multiplication of al-Qaida and other jihadis rather than the fall of Bashar al-Assad; the increasing chaos in Iraq which ought to be a warning to the Gulf of the dangers of letting Sunni versus Shia tensions rip; and finally Washington’s declining need for the region’s oil.
Confused and not forewarned by their American ally, France, Israel and Saudi Arabia are lashing out in wild and undiplomatic terms. [Continue reading...]
Brian Whitaker writes: Two people died in Riyadh on Saturday in fights involving foreign migrants, Saudi citizens and police.
The rioting, in the Manfouhah district of the capital – a poor neighbourhood where many East Africans live – was the worst outbreak of violence since the Saudi authorities launched their “all-out” campaign to round up “illegal” workers and expel them from the kingdom.
On Tuesday an Ethiopian man was shot dead by police in the same district, reportedly while resisting arrest.
The two who died on Saturday night are said to be a Saudi man who was hit by a stone and a man of African origin who was shot by police. AFP says a further 68 people were injured (28 Saudis and 40 foreigners) and 561 people were arrested.
An Ethiopian official told AFP that trouble broke out when Saudi police attempted to round up Ethiopians who had failed to regularise their status in the kingdom and move them to a camp which had been specially set up in the area, to await deportation.
Arab News reports:
Armed with knives, the rioters gathered in the district’s narrow streets early evening Saturday, threatening policemen, motorists, and pedestrians, witnesses and police said.
Anti-riot police fired guns into the air and used truncheons to disperse the large crowds, mostly foreigners who appeared to be Africans, notably Ethiopians …
The injured, mostly Saudis and legal residents, have suffered knife-stabbing wounds and bruises from the rioters, who were among those receiving hospital treatment …
A large security force cordoned off the central Riyadh district and closed its entry and exit points, arresting a number of the violent illegal workers and calling on the rest of them to turn themselves in, according to Brigadier General, Naser al-Qahtani, media spokesman for Riyadh Police.
The crackdown on migrants, which has so far been largely ignored by western media, is rapidly turning into a full-blown and self-inflicted crisis. The authorities have clearly spent a lot of time planning for the mass arrests and deportations but seem to have given almost no thought to the knock-on effects. [Continue reading...]
Mark Urban writes: Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight.
While the kingdom’s quest has often been set in the context of countering Iran’s atomic programme, it is now possible that the Saudis might be able to deploy such devices more quickly than the Islamic republic.
Earlier this year, a senior Nato decision maker told me that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.
Last month Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, “the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.” [Continue reading...]
Stuart Montgomery writes: The Syrian Civil War has been raging for two years. Countless casualties have been sustained on each side, and the humanitarian problem continues to worsen.
So how do you end a civil war?
There are three potential outcomes: regime victory, rebel victory and a negotiated settlement. Currently, the last option is the championed outcome in the international context of the Syrian Civil War. Recently, the United States and Russia, reeling on the recent success of the chemical weapons deal, announced plans to convene an international conference to negotiate peace. Turkey, France and the United Kingdom, countries once considering military action, now support a peace settlement. Political pundits point to the example of Kosovo, as they argue for a quick, clean and negotiated peace. Respected strategist Edward Luttwak argued that a negotiated settlement would best serve U.S. interests. This option has appeal, because it avoids a messy military intervention. However, a negotiated peace is not risk-free.
Historically, negotiated settlements ending civil wars, are temporary at best. Angola, Sudan and Lebanon provide unfortunate examples of civil wars that were only temporarily halted by a negotiated peace. Another example, Kosovo is now relatively stable, but has been governed by a large, expensive, U.N. force for over a decade.
Why do negotiated settlements break apart?
Conflict reignites, because the issues that are at the root of the war are never truly resolved. Monica Duffy Toft, professor at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, argues that rebel victories result in a more stable peace in her book Securing the Peace, on civil war termination. Shouldn’t the choice be clear? Unfortunately supporting Syrian rebels is unpalatable, because of their fractious nature and key groups’ affiliation with Al Qaeda. Supporting Bashar al-Assad is equally unattractive, and unrealistic. Therefore, wouldn’t a negotiated settlement, even if temporary, best protect U.S. security interests?
A negotiated peace is not without problems. First, both Assad’s regime and Al Qaeda affiliates would continue to exist and be armed in some power sharing structure in Syria. Without the presence of a large peacekeeping force, which is unlikely with the lack of support and enthusiasm in the United States and abroad, each side would have little incentive to disarm and cooperate. Instead, these factions would focus on outmaneuvering each other for survival, rather than rebuilding Syria. [Continue reading...]
CNN reports: Al Qaeda has swept to power with the aim of imposing a strict Islamist ideology on Syrians across large swathes of Syria’s rebel-held north, according to a CNN survey of towns, activists and analysts that reveals an alarming increase in al Qaeda-linked control in just the past month.
Al Qaeda-backed militants known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are the predominant military force in northern Syria, according to activists and seasoned observers, and have a powerful influence over the majority of population centers in the rebel-held north.
Rami Abdul Rahman, from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: “ISIS is the strongest group in Northern Syria — 100% — and anyone who tells you anything else is lying.”
CNN conducted dozens of interviews with activists, local and international observers and residents of the towns affected by ISIS in preparing this study. Many of the Syrians CNN spoke to talked anonymously for fear of angering ISIS, saying ISIS has in some areas made it a crime punishable by flogging to even say their name.
The swift al Qaeda expansion poses a severe policy dilemma for the United States and its European allies who have long delayed their promised armed assistance to rebel groups as they struggled with fears that the weapons could end up in the hands of al Qaeda-backed extremists.
Observers say the delay has provided a vacuum in the often chaotic rebel ranks that the organized and fearless Islamists have moved to fill.
Many observers explain that the extent of ISIS’s discipline and resources — they are said to have considerable cash at their disposal — means that the other rebel groups operating in the north do not seek to confront them.
Charles Lister, analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, said: “Although not a numerically dominant force, ISIS is playing an increasingly pre-eminent role in the northern Syrian insurgency.
“Much of this is a result of its capability to exploit superior levels of financing and resources — essentially, to spread itself thinly enough to exert influence and/or control, but not too thin as to be overpowered by rivals.”
Most activists point to a clear strategy by ISIS — which aims to dominate a large swathe of the north from the north-western town of Idlib to the north-eastern city of Raqqa and beyond — of focusing on population centers on the edges of rebel-held territory and slowly choking off central areas. Some ISIS figures have described a broader aim of trying to link the Sunni province of Anbar in Iraq to the Mediterranean coast, near the Syrian town of Latakia.
Reuters reports: The international body tasked with eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons has raised only enough money so far to fund its mission through this month, and more cash will have to be found soon to pay for the destruction of poison gas stocks next year.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize last month, is overseeing the destruction of Syria’s nerve agent stocks under a U.S.-Russian agreement reached in September.
It has so far raised about 10 million euros ($13.5 million) for the task.
“It is the assessment of the Secretariat that its existing personnel resources are sufficient for operations to be conducted in October and November 2013,” said an October 25 OPCW document seen by Reuters. At the time, its account held just 4 million euros.
What do you and your country think is the best outcome in Syria?
The best outcome is to stop the killing.
We had a proposal, put forth by our foreign minister, that you have to level the playing field. And that means Bashar’s military superiority has to be checked by giving the opposition the means to defend themselves. You’re not talking about sending troops on the ground. Over the past two and half years, if anti-tank, anti-aircraft defensive weapons had been distributed to the opposition—and not all the opposition, [but] the opposition that is for an inclusive Syria—then they would have been able to checkmate the military superiority of Bashar al-Assad and force him to come to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, that did not happen. While Europe and America continued to deny the opposition the means to defend against Bashar’s lethal weapons, the Russians and the Iranians continued to supply Bashar with whatever he needed.
So it’s up to the United States and the Europeans to arm the opposition?
Absolutely. The Europeans put an embargo on arms to Syria. They could see … that that embargo wasn’t affecting Assad but it was definitely denying his opponents … weapons. It took the Europeans two and a half years to change their view and finally say “OK, we can afford to sell these weapons to the opposition.” But none of these countries did. The Americans have not only not sold them, but they have declared they have no intention of providing these weapons to the opposition. So how can you level the playing ground if one side is continually supplied with what it needs by the Russians and the Iranians, and the other side is continually denied those things?
Do you think your country will sit by?
My country has been trying to push not just the United States but the Europeans as well.
Do you feel Saudi explanations fall on deaf ears with the Obama administration?
Every day there are more than 50 to 100 people killed in Syria. And the world sits back and watches.
Do you feel President Obama just doesn’t get it?
I don’t know if he gets it or not. But I think the world community is definitely at fault here. The Russians because they are supporting Bashar and allowing him to do the killing. The Chinese because they have vetoed any measures in the United Nations to prevent him from doing that. The Europeans for not supplying the opposition with weapons. The United States for continually not supplying the opposition with what they need. It’s a worldwide apathy—a criminally negligent attitude toward the Syrian people.
So what do you think will happen in Syria?
They are going to continue the killing.
And Assad will stay in power as things stand now?
As things stand now, Bashar al-Assad is under the protection of the Security Council because of the chemical weapons resolution.
Rami G Khouri writes: Observing the Middle East from the United States, where I have spent the last month, has been fascinating, because historic changes are occurring in some relationships between these two regions. This includes evolving American ties with the five key strategic players in the region: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, Turkey and Egypt. The most important changes are taking place in the triangular relationship among the United Sates and each of Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Three simultaneous things are occurring here that are intriguing, but their permanent implications remain unclear because events are in their early days.
The first is the United States’ resumption of direct and serious talks with Iran in a more positive atmosphere that seeks to end the dispute over Iran’s nuclear capabilities while also addressing Iranian concerns about American policy toward Iran. Should the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers succeed, as I expect, this could mark a revolutionary new era when Iran would slowly resume normal ties with global powers and reshape its relations within the Middle East. This in turn could have major implications for Saudi Arabian and Gulf Cooperation Council policies, as well as conditions in Syria and Iraq, and the status of Hezbollah and Lebanon.
Washington’s evolving perceptions of Iran reflect the second change, which is a rare case of the U.S. pursuing policies in the Middle East that are not fully in line with Israeli fears or wishes. Israel and its influential American mouthpieces in Washington have lobbied overtime in recent months to prevent a U.S.-Iranian dialogue or serious negotiations that could lead to a rapprochement. They have failed to date in this. Washington has tried to placate Israeli concerns with the rhetoric that Israel expects to hear from its friends in the U.S., but President Barack Obama has ignored Israeli exhortations and moved ahead sharply to negotiate with Iran. We can expect major consequences from a U.S. foreign policy that is shaped by U.S. national interests, rather than by Israeli dictates, fears and manipulations. [Continue reading...]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief told European diplomats this weekend that he plans to scale back cooperating with the U.S. to arm and train Syrian rebels in protest of Washington’s policy in the region, participants in the meeting said.
Prince Bandar Bin Sultan al-Saud’s move increases tensions in a growing dispute between the U.S. and one of its closest Arab allies over Syria, Iran and Egypt policies. It follows Saudi Arabia’s surprise decision on Friday to renounce a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The Saudi government, after preparing and campaigning for the seat for a year, cited what it said was the council’s ineffectiveness in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian and Syrian conflicts.
Diplomats here said Prince Bandar, who is leading the kingdom’s efforts to fund, train and arm rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, invited a Western diplomat to the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah over the weekend to voice Riyadh’s frustration with the Obama administration and its regional policies, including the decision not to bomb Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons in August.
“This was a message for the U.S., not the U.N.,” Prince Bandar was quoted by diplomats as specifying of Saudi Arabia’s decision to walk away from the Security Council membership.
Top decisions in Saudi Arabia come from the king, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, and it isn’t known if Prince Bandar’s reported remarks reflected a decision by the monarch, or an effort by Prince Bandar to influence the king. However, the diplomats said, Prince Bandar told them he intends to roll back a partnership with the U.S. in which the Central Intelligence Agency and other nations’ security bodies have covertly helped train Syrian rebels to fight Mr. Assad, Prince Bandar said, according to the diplomats. Saudi Arabia would work with other allies instead in that effort, including Jordan and France, the prince was quoted as saying. [Continue reading...]
Human Rights Watch: Other countries should use the rare opportunity for scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record on October 21, 2013, to press for concrete steps to end abuses. Country representatives gathering in Geneva for the United Nations Human Rights Council’s periodic review of Saudi Arabia should press for actions that include the immediate release of Saudi activists jailed over the past year solely for peacefully advocating reform.
Saudi Arabia has convicted seven prominent human rights and civil society activists since the beginning of 2013 – including Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Mikhlif al-Shammari, and Wajeha al-Huwaider – on broad, catch-all charges, such as “trying to distort the reputation of the kingdom,” “breaking allegiance with the ruler,” and “setting up an unlicensed organization.” Saudi courts are currently trying others, including the human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, on similar charges and authorities have harassed and placed travel bans on dozens more.
“Many countries have problematic records, but Saudi Arabia stands out for its extraordinarily high levels of repression and its failure to carry out its promises to the Human Rights Council,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “Countries should use this opportunity to send a strong, unified message that Saudi Arabia needs to make critical human rights reforms.” [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Saudi Arabia stunned the United Nations and even some of its own diplomats on Friday by rejecting a highly coveted seat on the Security Council, a decision that underscored the depth of Saudi anger over what the monarchy sees as weak and conciliatory Western stances toward Syria and Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
The Saudi decision, which could have been made only with King Abdullah’s approval, came a day after it had won a Security Council seat for the first time, and it appeared to be unprecedented.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry released a statement rejecting the seat just hours after the kingdom’s own diplomats — both at the United Nations and in Riyadh, the Saudi capital — were celebrating their new seat, the product of two years of work to assemble a crack diplomatic team in New York. Some analysts said the sudden turnabout gave the impression of a self-destructive temper tantrum.
But one Saudi diplomat said the decision came after weeks of high-level debate about the usefulness of a seat on the Security Council, where Russia and China have repeatedly drawn Saudi anger by blocking all attempts to pressure Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Abdullah has voiced rising frustration with the continuing violence in Syria, a fellow Muslim-majority nation where one of his wives was born. He is said to have been deeply disappointed when President Obama decided against airstrikes on Syria’s military in September in favor of a Russian-proposed agreement to secure Syria’s chemical weapons. [Continue reading...]
Ian Black writes: Big changes make governments nervous, so it is striking to observe the jitters emanating from Saudi Arabia at the incipient thaw in relations between the US and Iran. Riyadh had long been rumbling with discontent over Washington’s responses to the Arab spring but their differences burst into the open with last month’s US-Russian deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons — putting Bashar al-Assad out of range of punitive air strikes. Now the prospect of agreement on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme is said to be giving the Saudi royals bad dreams.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have been strategic rivals since before the 1979 revolution – the shah was known as the “policeman of the Gulf” – as well as the respective leaders of the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam. Iran’s position was inadvertently strengthened by the US-led invasion of Iraq and the installation of a Shia government in Baghdad. Tehran backs Assad and Hizbullah in Lebanon while Riyadh openly advocates regime change in Damascus. Syria’s conflict is indeed, in some ways, a proxy war.
The Saudis also fear Iran’s nuclear ambitions – King Abdullah famously urged the US to “cut off the head of the snake” – and have repeatedly signalled that they will acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does. They blame Tehran – though without much evidence – for encouraging Shia opposition to the Sunni monarchy in neighbouring Bahrain. Shias in the kingdom’s eastern provinces face state repression and Saudi clerics have used inflammatory sectarian language over Syria, especially Assad’s Alawite community.
Saudi diplomacy is unusually opaque, so the signs of anxiety are subtle but unmistakable. Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, cancelled his speech to the UN general assembly out of pique at the Syria CW agreement. In private conversations senior Saudis are scathing about President Obama’s preference for inspections and disarmament over military action. Obama’s high-profile phone call with Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new president, is another big factor in this diplo-sulk. Like the Israelis, the Saudis do not believe, or do not want to believe, that Rouhani is a genuine moderate or can overcome hardline elements at home. Their fear is that in a much-touted “grand bargain” between Washington and Tehran, the Gulf states will be the losers. [Continue reading...]