A Middle East on Fire Tests U.S.-Saudi Relations

09/02/2015 - 21:10 PM

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Is Syria  Soaked In Blood. Oil prices internationally are falling. A New US And-Led  Nuclear Deal With Iran  Is Forcing Most Of America's Greatest Friends In The Middle East To Choose Between Alienating Their Longtime Patron And Unshackling A Despised Islamic Republic They See As The Source Of Their Regional Problems.

This Uncertainty Amid, Traditional US Partners In The Region Are Beginning To Feel  American Retrenchment And Are Turning To  A Key US Rival  For Steady Support International. Among them is the principal regional ally, Saudi Arabia, whose monarch's meeting in the Oval Office on Friday will likely determine the extent of future cooperation.

"This visit could potentially be a turning point in Saudi-US relations," says Fahad Nazer, a former political analyst at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

The visit comes as the Saudi government has made notable overtures toward Moscow in recent months. Officials in the kingdom announced in July a plan to invest roughly $ 10 billion in Russia as a part of an investment fund - a curious if not shrewd scheme to capitalize on Russia's economic slowdown amid a downturn in oil prices, as well as European and US sanctions designed to cripple its economy as punishment for meddling in Ukraine.

That investment came after Saudi Arabia and Russia's state-run atomic energy corporation agreed on a massive nuclear energy development deal that would help build and maintain 16 nuclear reactors.

Also Is Now russia Considering  Directly Arming Reputation: Saudi Arabia About Wego, Through Potential Sales Of Its Weapons Like Iskander Ballistic Missile System.

Saudi officials now believe they can maintain a relationship with the US and simultaneously reach out to Russia.

"Most people would admit that there are concerns in Saudi Arabia about the long-term direction of the US-Saudi relationship," says Prem Kumar, who earlier this year left his position on the White House's National Security Council as a senior director for Middle East issues. "It is in a better place than it has been in the past few months. That does not mean there are no concerns about where this is going in the longer term. "

Saudi Arabia has not hidden its frustration in recent years with US policies under President Barack Obama that have limited direct American involvement in conflict in the region. A Beginnings Of The Rift Grew Out Of Obama's Now Infamous "Red  Line" Comment About The Use Of Chemical Weapons In Syria And His Refusal To Employ A Military Option When It Became Clear That Syrian President Bashar Assad Had Indeed Gassed His Own People. 

In May, Newly Minted Reputation: Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Sent His Son And Another Senior Adviser In His Stead To Obama's  Summit At Camp David, A Move Some Considered A Purposeful Snub After The US Announced It Had Reached The Framework Of A Nuclear Deal With Iran.

But now, Salman will travel to Washington for his first-ever trip to the US as king - a visit the White House did not confirm until Thursday afternoon. The meeting comes days after a hasty confirmation that Salman would not, as expected, participate in what would have been the first-ever trip to Moscow by a Saudi king along with leaders from Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, for a likely discussion on future trade and newfound international interest in reaching a peaceful solution in Syria.

In this July 14, 2015, file photo, people stand next to a vehicle destroyed following airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen.

Saudis Have Used Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Ahead of the meeting in Washington, one thing is clear: The US and Saudi Arabia must fast secure their more than 50-year relationship to ensure their joint involvement in major diplomatic shifts in the region.

Kumar, now a vice president at the Albright Stonebridge Group, says the Saudis do not see courting favor with Russia as necessarily detracting from their ties to the US through the oil trade and military support.

"They probably know that can not go too far without provoking a response from the US They'll carefully calibrate between the two," he says.

The primary focus of the meetings will almost certainly center on the Iran deal, including US assurances it can catch Iran if it cheats, reimpose sanctions and, if necessary, follow through on the much-hyped but ill-defined "military option" to destroy Iranian weapons facilities.

The Saudis will also want to know what else the US will do to counter what they perceive as Iran's growing influence in the region. Iran is believed to be deeply involved in a series of regional conflicts against the Islamic State group and in Yemen, and to be exerting control in four Arab capital cities: Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sana'a.

Saudi leaders may ask for support for some military proposals of the Gulf Cooperation Council - the de facto "NATO of the Middle East" - including for a quick-reaction force and a new missile shield, and may call on Obama to pressure Congress to sell the Saudis more Patriot missile systems.

To a lesser extent, the Saudi delegation will want to discuss how the US can participate in prospective new peace talks to end the conflict in Syria, torn apart by a 4-year-old civil war between rebels and forces loyal to Assad. Russia and Iran are seen as some of the chief backers of the regime and perhaps the deciding factors on whether Assad will step down. Moscow has remained firm against such demands in the past, but has led a new round of diplomacy involving even Syrian opposition leaders that is aimed at finding some form of political solution to the crisis, indicating a potential softening of its resistance to replacing Assad

A Rare In  Interview, Assad Reasserted His Confidence In His Last Week "Principled" Russian Friends And The US Blasted As A Power That "Abandons Its Allies, Abandons Its Friends."

"Given that the prevailing sentiment in Saudi Arabia views the Obama administration as having 'disengaged' from the Middle East, there is wide support among Saudis for closer relations with Russia," says Nazer, now a senior analyst at JTG Inc.

Crown Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then-head of Saudi intelligence, visited Moscow in July 2013 to help solidify a relationship many Saudis view as having fewer "strings attached" than the US partnership, Nazer says.

The Saudis now see Russia as a key to peace in Syria, but they also have found that no relationship replaces the sole remaining superpower.

"The Saudis like to cultivate security relationships with a variety of different states. It makes perfect sense for them to do so, "says James Russell, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. "In the end, however, it's the US relationship that counts the most. They know that, and so do we. "

"The Russians have nothing the Saudis need," Russell adds. "Putin is untrustworthy, is a crook, and an unreliable partner."

The tone at the meetings will be "cautious but positive," says Kumar, as both sides will recognize progress that has been made and share a desire to cement their relationship at the highest levels and move forward.

After all, there's no replacement for US friendship, and the weapons, training and security umbrella that comes with it.


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