House of Saud worried United States is going soft on Iran
Newscast Media WASHINGTON—The Arab Spring is causing tensions in one of the Middle East’s most enduring alliances – between the United States and Saudi Arabia. And the cracks are beginning to show over Syria, Egypt and Iran.
It’s not often that not making a speech is taken as an affront. But when Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabian foreign minister, did not make his annual address to the United Nations General Assembly recently, it was seen as a diplomatic slight, aimed not only at the UN Security Council’s failure to take action over Syria, but also at one of Saudi Arabia’s oldest allies: the United States.
This is part of a subtle but fundamental shift in the complex power balances in the Middle East. Recent developments have shown that the Arab Spring has put unfamiliar pressures on the relationship the US and Saudi Arabia.
The horrific, drawn-out conflict in Syria is the immediate point of contention. “There’s a real divergence of interests,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, senior Middle East policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s increasingly being seen both in the US and Europe that Saudi ambitions in the region don’t match Western ambitions. The Saudis are seen to an extent as a destabilizing influence.”
Meanwhile, the Saudis are increasingly coming to believe that the US is going soft and not doing enough to help the Arab world. Stoking Saudi suspicion is the recent charm offensive undertaken by the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who began making conciliatory gestures to the US over Iran’s nuclear program at the United Nations last month, culminating in this Tuesday’s nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers in Geneva.
With Saudi Arabia backing the rebels in Syria, and Iran helping to prop up Bashar al-Assad, the longstanding rivalry between the regional powers has found a violent flashpoint. The Saudi kingdom was therefore dismayed to see the US welcoming – albeit cautiously – the new moderate tone coming from Tehran.
“The Saudis’ worst nightmare would be the administration striking a grand bargain with Iran,” former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan told Reuters. Such a deal could, for example, see Washington willing to tolerate Iran’s influence in Syria in exchange for inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“If the Saudis perceive Iranian influence in the region to be threatening, clearly any approach that suggests a US-Iranian rapprochement would be very worrying,” Barnes-Dacey told Deutsche Welle.
“The Saudis are intent on pushing back against groups linked to Iran, whether that be Assad or Hezbollah, but it also means pushing back against groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, who subscribe to a political ideology that the Saudis see as a threat internally.”
But other analysts point out that the US approach may be the only way to resolve the Syrian crisis. “If the US wants to resolve the chaos in Syria, there is no way around the involvement of Iran,” said Marc Pierini, former EU ambassador to Syria and scholar at Carnegie Europe. “The nuclear issue is also a further reason to engage. Everything else has to be seen in that context – not that anyone should trust Iran blindly, but Tehran is an essential component.”
Source: Deutsche Welle