Saudi Arabia severs diplomatic ties with US over response to conflict in Syria

 

  • Saudi Arabia is  an important ally to the U.S. as it provides a secure source of oil
  • Saudi diplomats  now promise a ‘major shift’ in relations with the U.S. over inaction in the  conflict in Syria
  • Secretary  of State John Kerry says he is committed to keeping a good relationship with the  Saudis

By  Reuters Reporter

PUBLISHED: 19:27 EST, 22  October 2013 |  UPDATED: 19:27 EST, 22 October 2013

Upset at President Barack Obama’s policies on  Iran and Syria, members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are threatening a rift  with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the  kingdom to its lowest point in years.

Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief is vowing  that the kingdom will make a ‘major shift’ in relations with the United States  to protest perceived American inaction over Syria’s civil war as well as recent  U.S. overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on  Tuesday.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European  diplomats that the United States had failed to act effectively against Syrian  President Bashar al-Assad and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing  closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it  crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.

'Major change': Prince Bandar Bin Sultan said the kingdom will make a  

‘Major change’: Prince Bandar Bin Sultan said the  kingdom will make a “major shift” in relations with the United States

‘The shift away from the U.S. is a major  one,’ the source close to Saudi policy said. ‘Saudi doesn’t want to find itself  any longer in a situation where it is dependent.’

It was not immediately clear whether the  reported statements by Prince Bandar, who was the Saudi ambassador to Washington  for 22 years, had the full backing of King Abdullah.

The growing breach between the United States  and Saudi Arabia was also on display in Washington, where another senior Saudi  prince criticized Obama’s Middle East policies, accusing him of ‘dithering’ on  Syria and Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In unusually blunt public remarks, Prince  Turki al-Faisal called Obama’s policies in Syria ‘lamentable’ and ridiculed a  U.S.-Russian deal to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons. He suggested it was a  ruse to let Obama avoid military action in Syria.

‘The current charade of international control  over Bashar’s chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly  perfidious. And designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down  (from military strikes), but also to help Assad to butcher his people,’ said  Prince Turki, a member of the Saudi royal family and former director of Saudi  intelligence.

Inaction: The Saudis say they are getting upset by President Obama's inaction in dealing with the conflict in Syria 

Inaction: The Saudis say they are getting upset by  President Obama’s inaction in dealing with the conflict in Syria

The United States and Saudi Arabia have been  allies since the kingdom was declared in 1932, giving Riyadh a powerful military  protector and Washington secure oil supplies.

The Saudi criticism came days after the 40th  anniversary of the October 1973 Arab oil embargo imposed to punish the West for  supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur war.

That was one of the low points in U.S.-Saudi  ties, which were also badly shaken by the September 11, 2001, attacks on the  United States. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Saudi Arabia gave a clear sign of its  displeasure over Obama’s foreign policy last week when it rejected a coveted  two-year term on the U.N. Security Council in a display of anger over the  failure of the international community to end the war in Syria and act on other  Middle East issues.

Prince Turki indicated that Saudi Arabia will  not reverse that decision, which he said was a result of the Security Council’s  failure to stop Assad and implement its own decision on the Israeli-Palestinian  conflict.

Picking sides: Russian President Vladimir Putin, seen here with bin Sultan, has sided with the Syrian government in the conflict 

Picking sides: Russian President Vladimir Putin, seen  here with bin Sultan, has sided with the Syrian government in the  conflict

‘There is nothing whimsical about the  decision to forego membership of the Security Council. It is based on the  ineffectual experience of that body,’ he said in a speech to the  Washington-based National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

In London, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry  said he discussed Riyadh’s concerns when he met Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal  in Paris on Monday.

Kerry said he told the Saudi minister no deal  with Iran was better than a bad deal. ‘I have great confidence that the United  States and Saudi Arabia will continue to be the close and important friends and  allies that we have been,’ Kerry told reporters.

Prince Bandar is seen as a foreign policy  hawk, especially on Iran. The Sunni Muslim kingdom’s rivalry with Shi’ite Iran,  an ally of Syria, has amplified sectarian tensions across the Middle  East.

A son of the late defense minister and crown  prince, Prince Sultan, and a protégé of the late King Fahd, he fell from favor  with King Abdullah after clashing on foreign policy in 2005.

But he was called in from the cold last year  with a mandate to bring down Assad, diplomats in the Gulf say. Over the past  year, he has led Saudi efforts to bring arms and other aid to Syrian  rebels.

‘Prince Bandar told diplomats that he plans  to limit interaction with the U.S.,’ the source close to Saudi policy  said.

Secretary of State John Kerry says he's confident the U.S. will continue to have a good relationship with Saudi Arabia 

Secretary of State John Kerry says he’s confident the  U.S. will continue to have a good relationship with Saudi Arabia

This happens after the U.S. failed to take  any effective action on Syria and Palestine. Relations with the U.S. have been  deteriorating for a while, as Saudi feels that the U.S. is growing closer with  Iran and the U.S. also failed to support Saudi during the Bahrain uprising,” the  source said.

The source declined to provide more details  of Bandar’s talks with the diplomats, which took place in the past few  days.

But he suggested that the planned change in  ties between the energy superpower and the United States would have wide-ranging  consequences, including on arms purchases and oil sales.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil  exporter, ploughs much of its earnings back into U.S. assets. Most of the Saudi  central bank’s net foreign assets of $690 billion are thought to be denominated  in dollars, much of them in U.S. Treasury bonds.

‘All options are on the table now, and for  sure there will be some impact,’ the Saudi source said.

He said there would be no further  coordination with the United States over the war in Syria, where the Saudis have  armed and financed rebel groups fighting Assad.

The kingdom has informed the United States of  its actions in Syria, and diplomats say it has respected U.S. requests not to  supply the groups with advanced weaponry that the West fears could fall into the  hands of al Qaeda-aligned groups.

Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki Al Faisal also is outraged the international community has let the war continue in Syria 

Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki Al Faisal also is  outraged the international community has let the war continue in Syria

Saudi anger boiled over after Washington  refrained from military strikes in response to a poison gas attack in Damascus  in August when Assad agreed to give up his chemical weapons  arsenal.

Representative Chris Van Hollen, a member of  the U.S. House of Representatives’ Democratic leadership, told Reuters’  Washington Summit on Tuesday that the Saudi moves were intended to pressure  Obama to take action in Syria.

‘We know their game. They’re trying to send a  signal that we should all get involved militarily in Syria, and I think that  would be a big mistake to get in the middle of the Syrian civil war,’ Van Hollen  said.

‘And the Saudis should start by stopping  their funding of the al Qaeda-related groups in Syria. In addition to the fact  that it’s a country that doesn’t allow women to drive,’ said Van Hollen, who is  close to Obama on domestic issues in Congress but is less influential on foreign  policy.

Saudi Arabia is concerned about signs of a  tentative reconciliation between Washington and Tehran, something Riyadh fears  may lead to a ‘grand bargain’ on the Iranian nuclear program that would leave  Riyadh at a disadvantage.

Prince Turki expressed doubt that Obama would  succeed in what he called an ‘open arms approach’ to Iran, which he accused of  meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Bahrain.

‘We Saudis observe President Obama’s efforts  in this regard. The road ahead is arduous,’ he said. ‘Whether (Iranian President  Hassan) Rouhani will succeed in steering Iran toward sensible policies is  already contested in Iran. The forces of darkness in Qom and Tehran are well  entrenched.’

The U.N. Security Council has been paralyzed  over the 31-month-old Syria conflict, with permanent members Russia and China  repeatedly blocking measures to condemn Assad.

Saudi Arabia backs Assad’s mostly Sunni rebel  foes. The Syrian leader, whose Alawite sect is derived from Shi’ite Islam, has  support from Iran and the armed Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah. The Syrian  leader denounces the insurgents as al Qaeda-linked groups backed by Sunni-ruled  states.

In Bahrain, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, a  simmering pro-democracy revolt by its Shi’ite majority has prompted calls by  some in Washington for U.S. ships to be based elsewhere.

Many U.S. economic interests in Saudi Arabia  involve government contracts in defense, other security sectors, health care,  education, information technology and construction.

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One thought on “Saudi Arabia severs diplomatic ties with US over response to conflict in Syria

  1. Hmmm, this is strange to me since it was the “Saudi(s)” who gave Obama the $ for Harvard, etc.
    Change of Heart, eh?

    Like

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