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Saudi Relations With U.S. Cooling
[Analysis] Shift appears tactical, but may lead toward middle ground
Liam Bailey (wordsworth)     Print Article 
Published 2007-04-02 15:27 (KST)   
Recently there has been a shift in Saudi King Abdullah's attitude, behavior, and rhetoric towards the U.S. Based on this, some analysts are reporting that their alliance is crumbling -- but is it?

In a complex region such as the Middle East, at a time when stability or the lack thereof is dependent on the actions of so many players, perhaps it is too early to make any rash judgments.

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It could well take a year or more to ascertain whether the Saudi relationship with the U.S. has or is actually changing or if it is anything more than an attempt by the Saudi monarchy to regain credibility with their population and their Arab League counterparts at a crucial time for Sunni Arab unification.

Perhaps Saudi Arabia is simply attempting to distance itself from U.S. adventurism in what looks like the run-up to war in Iran with the hope of avoiding retaliation from the Shiite state, which would undoubtedly damage Saudi oil infrastructure and revenues. This is backed up by King Abdullah's recent meeting with Iranian President Ahmed Ahmadinejad, which went strongly against U.S. policy toward Iran.

Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have had good relations for over 70 years, with the obvious ups and downs of any long-term international relationship. In recent years a "special relationship" has developed between the two states, which 9/11 put under significant pressure for a short time.

Saudi Arabia is a very important ally for the U.S. because it plays a strong role in the region, has the world's largest oil reserves, and is in a strategically important location. The U.S. is an important ally for Saudi Arabia also, because its military cooperation provides Saudi Forces with training and the best weaponry.

The U.S. is also the largest importer of Saudi oil and petroleum products. The safety of these products and their infrastructure is a major priority for Saudi Arabia, and so it is likely that recent Saudi actions and those in the near future are at least partly aimed at ensuring that the country doesn't become directly embroiled in any of the region's wars, as well as exercising its growing influence to take a larger role in attempts to stabilize the region.

One leg of their attempts to extend their role is resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict. The initiative currently at the center of the latest attempts to restart the peace process was originally the brainchild of then-acting Saudi regent Crown Prince Abdullah, presented to an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002.

The initiative offers Israel normalized relations with all Arab League states (practically all Arab states), including long-running enemies Lebanon and Syria, encompassing full recognition and therefore the highest likelihood Israel has ever been offered of future security. In exchange it asks Israel to return land taken in the 1967 war, for the creation of an independent Palestinian state therein with East Jerusalem as its capital and "a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem."

No doubt a big part of attempting to implement the initiative will be getting both sides to agree, but, as we have seen in all other attempts at resolving the crisis, perhaps an even bigger part will be ensuring that both sides honor their commitments. Groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and the many rogue elements within could -- and have -- destroyed in five minutes what has taken months of hard negotiations to secure.

Hamas and Hezbollah have a deep-rooted hatred for the U.S., as do many Palestinian and Lebanese (Muslim) civilians for what is seen as a Middle Eastern policy biased heavily in favor of Israel. These beliefs have become so entrenched because of the years of heavy U.S. financial and military aid to Israel, despite what seems at times to be a lax attitude towards collateral damage. In other words, some believe the U.S. is in part responsible for the high civilian casualties inflicted by Israel in the decades-long conflict.

Because of this hatred for the U.S., if Saudi Arabia were to succeed in implementing the Arab peace initiative, but were seen by militant groups to be acting on U.S. interests or orders, the agreement might be killed before it can be born. Therefore at this crucial stage of trying to get the initiative off the ground and accepted by all parties, possibly through negotiations, it can be seen to be in Saudi Arabia's best interests to weaken their alliance with the U.S, or at least to create the impression that their doing so.

This would seem to be the main reason behind King Abdullah's recent actions and statements, based on their timing. In recent days he canceled his attendance at a White House formal dinner in his honor on April 18. The official reason was a scheduling conflict. And a few days later, on the first day of the Arab league Summit in Riyadh (Mar. 28-29), in which the 2002 initiative was unanimously revitalized, while calling for rare Arab unity King Abdullah launched a scathing attack on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. He said, "In beloved Iraq, blood is flowing between brothers, in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and abhorrent sectarianism threatens a civil war."

He also spoke out against U.S. and Israeli desires to maintain the P.A. blockade, saying, "In wounded Palestine, the mighty people suffer from oppression and occupation. It has become vital that the oppressive blockade imposed on the Palestinians end as soon as possible so the peace process will get to move in an atmosphere without oppression."

Because of their entrenched programmatic ties in military training, and mutual dependence on each other, it is unlikely that U.S.-Saudi ties will be completely severed. But as Saudi Arabia attempts to take a leading role in stabilizing the tinder-box Middle East, the courage to resist U.S. pressure and try a different approach will perhaps serve them well in many ways.

For example, many analysts believe there should be negotiations with Hezbollah over stabilizing Lebanon and with Iran over fears of a major conflict with the West. The U.S. has continually advocated that both be completely shunned, whereas Saudi Arabia seems at least willing to give dialogue a try.

Maybe the Saudis will fail as miserably at stabilizing the Middle East as the U.S. has and continues to do. But maybe, just maybe, their suddenly different paths on the same road may manage to find a suitable middle ground.
This article will appear on War Pages
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Liam Bailey

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