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Saudi’s beginning to play their cards…

Posted by Stephen on March 30, 2007

Is Saudi Arabia a friend or foe?

Like most questions of that nature the answer lies somewhere in between. Few diplomatic relationships are as sensitive, and hard to understand, as that which exists between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The countries have few common interests.

That said, Saudi Arabia, much like a capitalistic society, maintains focus on self serving interests. When we are needed we are the best of friends. When the U.S. is in need the relationship is reunited. However, when neither needs the other the result is often times cold and unattractive.

Recently, King Abdullah has voiced his displeasure with the U.S. involvement in Iraq calling it an “illegitimate foreign occupation.” Statements like these come on the heels of Abdullah’s attempts to quell Middle Eastern hot spots in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.

Abdullah has become increasingly upset with President Bush’s reluctance to address what he feels are transgressions by Israel within their conflict with the Palestinians. Abdullah has described the embargo against the Palestinians “unjust.”

U.S. officials said they were puzzled by Abdullah’s description of the situation in Iraq and said they will demand an explanation. On the one hand, U.S. officials have said that they were pleased by Saudi Arabia’s willingness to shoulder a greater diplomatic burden, but Abdullah’s remarks come after disquieting signs that Riyadh is distancing itself from the Bush administration.

Abdullah recently cancelled a planned dinner at the White House and last month Abdullah brokered a deal with Palestinian militants including Hamas that derailed Secretary Rice.

“I think he was concerned that he was seen too much as Bush’s friend,” as opposed to just a U.S. ally, said Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They think the situation is very dire for their strategic interests, but the United States is still indispensable.”

Concerned perhaps, but there are clear examples of Abdullah’s frustration with the Bush administration that could be seen as a legitimate dislike for the U.S. position in the Middle East. For example, the Washington Post recently reported that in April 2002, Abdullah visited Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Tex., and was dismayed that Bush would speak only in generalities about the Israeli-Palestinian issue and, according to Saudi officials, appeared poorly briefed on a peace plan Abdullah had developed to extend recognition to Israel. Abdullah, who had brought along a scrapbook and a 10-minute video footage of Palestinians killed by Israelis, threatened to walk out until Bush pledged to do more to offer a vision for ending the violence in that region.

Perhaps the Saudis now view Iran as a greater problem than Israel. Recently they have pressed for a reaffirmation of Abdullah’s peace plan that, five years ago, led to the tense meeting with Bush in Crawford.

“The Iranian involvement is a result of the American occupation of Iraq,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a former adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal, until recently the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

For years the U.S. has expressed frustration with what they assert is Saudi’s ‘all talk but no action’ approach to the Palestinian conflict. Fox News has reported that the Saudis want to resolve the Palestinian issue so they can turn the region’s attention to combating the threat from Iran. The Post stated that Rice has spoken hopefully of forming a coalition of moderate Arab states to counter extremists such as Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Whatever the case maybe, and where ever the Saudi interests may lie, it is crucial that America continues to look through a wide lens when considering where her friendships are forged.

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

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