Posts Tagged ‘Prince Saud’

Saudis warn Russia!

June 6th, 2012 Comments off

“… “The time has come for Russia to change its stance from supporting the Syrian regime to working to stop the killing and (supporting) a peaceful transition of power,” Prince Saud told reporters after a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Jeddah.
Such a policy change, he said, would “preserve (Russia’s) interests in Syria and the Arab world,” adding that he “hoped Russia would re-evaluate its policies in the region, especially with regard to Syria.”
Otherwise, “Moscow would lose a lot (of credibility) among the Arabs,” he said….”

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"… Hezbollah fought the vastly superior Israelis to a standstill … it would be harder nut to crack for Washington’s Arab allies .."

December 9th, 2010 Comments off

“… The concept of an “Arab force” has been tried before, during one of the first episodes in Prince Saud’s long tenure. The 1976 Arab League summit in Riyadh, meant to resolve the nascent Lebanese civil war, resulted in the establishment of something called the “Arab Deterrent Force.” Saudi Arabia and other Arab states provided troops to the new peacekeeping effort, but the bulk of the soldiers were contributed by Syria. Troops from the other Arab countries soon lost interest and abandoned the peacekeeping force — but Syria remained, using the endeavor to legitimize its occupation of Lebanon. The outcome of the 1976 force hints at the problem with reviving the idea of an “Arab force” today. Syria was only able to establish its preeminence in Lebanon after another 14 years of fighting and thousands of casualties. Today, none of the Arab states that would contribute troops to limit Hezbollah’s power — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan — are conceivably in a position to make a similar sacrifice. Hezbollah fought the vastly superior Israel Defense Forces to a standstill for more than a month in 2006; the militant group would be an ever harder nut to crack for Washington’s Arab allies.”

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Was Ras al-Khaimah Succession Not as Smooth as it Seemed?

November 18th, 2010 Comments off

Via The Arabist, a report from Current Intelligence claiming that the recent succession in Ras-Khaimah was not as smooth as it seemed at the time. This report claims the older son, the deposed Crown Prince Khalid bin Saqr, sought to claim the throne when his father died, until UAE forces moved in to guarantee the succession of Prince Saud, now the Ruler. For more on the dueling Crown Princes, see this post (and read the comments carefully: my commenters know RAK and I don’t) and for all my Ras al-Khaimah posts, see here.

I don’t know the reliability of this particular link but The Arabist seems to trust it, and I can assure you if this occurred it won’t be in the UAE newspapers.

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"We will find ways to do more with them,… "

March 7th, 2010 Comments off

Ignatius in the WaPo/ here

The cynical (and usually correct) critique of economic sanctions was summed up this way by a retired U.S. diplomat named Douglas Paal: “Sanctions always accomplish their principal objective, which is to make those who impose them feel good.” The Obama administration is struggling to craft a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran that achieves more than this feel-good impact. The ambitious goal is “to cut off the revenues that fund Iran’s nuclear and missile programs,” says a senior administration official.
“We are going to put as tight a squeeze on Iran as we possibly can,” adds a diplomat from one of the members of the U.S.-led coalition that is beginning to discuss a new sanctions resolution at the U.N Security Council. The resolution will target the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its vast network of companies, which the United States estimates may include up to one-third of Iran’s total economy…..
China is vulnerable to Iranian oil pressure because it imports about 540,000 barrels per day from Iran. So the Saudis and Emiratis have been assuring Beijing that they would be prepared to offset any shortfall in Iranian crude shipments…..
Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, traveled to China late last week to enlist its support against Iran. The Saudi message to Beijing, according to one U.S. official, is: “If you don’t help us against Iran, you will see a less stable and dependable Middle East.”…..
The campaign against Iran was the central topic during a recent visit to Washington by the UAE’s foreign minister, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan. He urged administration officials to include Iran’s vulnerable neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and others — in their planning for dealing with Iran. “We will find ways to do more with them,” said the senior administration official.

The trick for the Obama administration is to craft a sanctions plan that hurts the Iranian government without causing too much pain for the Iranian people. That’s one reason the administration is wary of a congressional proposal for sanctions against Iran’s imports of refined petroleum products — a step that would probably harm the public more than the regime.
Officials talk about “targeted” sanctions that focus on the Revolutionary Guard Corps and its military-industrial complex of companies. But this effort is the diplomatic equivalent of “precision bombing” — in practice, some collateral damage is inevitable, which could help President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rally support for his hard-line government.
What’s certain is that the Iranian nuclear issue is heading into a more intense phase of confrontation — starting with the push for tougher U.N. sanctions. The Gulf countries have been asking what the administration plans to do if the sanctions don’t work: That’s the big foreign policy question of 2010, and Washington is beginning now to think about the answer.

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Hillary’s contortions on Iran

February 17th, 2010 Comments off

I don’t know if the Cirque du Soleil is accepting new applicants for starring roles, but Hillary Clinton certainly seems to have been going through great contortions in the arguments she’s been trying to make about Iran in recent days.

In the “Townterview” (!) that she held in Qatar yesterday, she was very evidently trying to build a case for U.S. intervention– quite possibly, including forced regime change– in Iran, based on the allegedly anti-democratic nature of recent developments in that country.

This was a supplement to the arguments the U.S. government has made for many years now, that it must “keep on the table” the “option” of launching a war against Iran based on the Tehran government’s alleged violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT.)

Sound familiar?

Of course it is. This kind of slippery bait-and-switch regarding the casus belli on the basis of which Washington plans to launch a war of aggression against another sovereign country is exactly what we saw from George W. Bush (and his dreadful poodle, Tony Blair), in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Then, as now, when it seemed that the arguments about the alleged “necessity” of going to war based solely on the arguments made about WMDs seemed unconvincing to many around the world (including the U.S.’s own citizens), the U.S. administration used feats of rhetorical legerdemain to try to claim that, well, just in case the WMDs arguments weren’t convincing enough, well then, how about those arguments concerning democratization and human rights?

What did Hillary actually say in Qatar?

She said,

    on the nuclear front we see Iran being exposed for having a secret facility at Qom. We see Iran refusing an offer from Russia, the United States, and France to help it get the enriched uranium it needed to run something called the Tehran Research Reactor, which makes medical isotopes, something that we are willing to support Iran to do, for medical purposes. We see the president of Iran ordering the nuclear program to do its own enriching, and to begin to move toward the level of enrichment that certainly is troubling to us, because of what it well could be, with respect to nuclear weapons. We hear a lot of very negative language coming out of Iran.

    And we are deeply concerned about the way Iran is treating its own people, and the way that it has executed demonstrators, imprisoned hundreds and hundreds of people whose only offense was peacefully protesting the outcome of the elections. Sitting here in this extraordinary campus, where you are encouraged to think and speak freely, it is hard to imagine what it must be like now to a young person in Iran, who wishes to have the same opportunities.

    So, we are still hoping that Iran will decide to forgo any nuclear ambitions for nuclear weapons, and begin to respect its own people more on a daily basis, provide opportunities that the young students of Iran deserve to have for their future. But we cannot just keep hoping for that. We have to work to take action to try to convince the Iranian government not to pursue nuclear weapons.

Notice the mishmash of arguments she was using there; and the way she tried to weave them together into one single fabric that would be stronger than either of its components would be, separately.

Notice the many strong parallels with the way GWB and Blair worked extra-hard in the weeks leading up to March 19, 2003, to create a whole thick fabric of different casi belli against Iraq. Or, to use a better metaphor, how they created an entire smorgasbord of different reasons to launch a war just in case one of the options should turn out not, on its own, to be convincing enough.

But then, notice these two incredible contradictions/ironies in Hillary Clinton’s latest resort to the smorgasbord approach:

    1. The “description” she gave in Qatar of the way the Obama administration sees current political developments in Iran was this:

      We see that the Government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament, is being supplanted, and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship [run by the revolutionary Guards].

    So presumably, the only honorable way forward for a lover of democracy would be to defend the Supreme Leader, the president, and parliament against this onslaught??

    2. The location where she gave this address. Qatar, after all, may have many of the appurtenances of an ultra-“modern” state in the world, with conference centers, Brookings Institution offices, etc etc. But it is notably not a country whose citizens enjoy much political freedom at all. Even the neoliberal U.S. organization Freedom House recognizes this, giving Qatar a 6-5 ranking this year on its assessment of political rights and civil liberties, in which ‘7’ is the worst possible’ and ‘1’ is the best possible.

    Freedom House gave Iran a 6-6 assessment this year. Saudi Arabia, the country Sec. Clinton visited right after Qatar, got a 7-6. So who’s being a little misleading here?

    (Also, she seems completely unaware that, ever since the viciously anti-democratic campaign Washington waged against the elected Palestinian leadership in 2006, its judgments on all matters of democracy and political accountability in the Middle East are themselves extremely suspect.)

Hillary’s contortions on this issue are important. They are a crucial part of a broad, AIPAC-fueled campaign that the Obama administration is now ramping up, to try to win public support in the U.S. and further afield for a U.S. war of forced regime change against Iran.

We have to call this campaign for what it is, and all work together to halt it in its tracks.

From this point of view, the kinds of questions that Clinton got from her host in the Qatar “townterview”, Al-Jazeera’s Abder-Rahim Foukara, and from most of her other questioners there, showed that her anti-Iranian campaign wasn’t winning many converts at all.

Foukara and many of the questioners from the floor wanted to ask her about Israel’s nuclear arsenal (a question that she ducked and wove to avoid giving a straight answer to.) They wanted to ask her about Washington’s policies on a broad range of Palestinian rights issues. (More ducking and weaving.) And they notably unswayed by her arguments over Iran.

It was a similar story in the remarks Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, made during the joint press appearance the two of them had in Riyadh, later in the day.

According to the U.S. State department, on Palestine Saud said,

    Within the framework of considering regional and international issues, the peace process received particular attention… The Kingdom believes in the importance of launching the peace process comprehensively to treat all the main issues of the conflict simultaneously, according to specific terms of reference and a clear-cut time schedule taking into account that the step-by-step policy and the confidence-building (inaudible) strategy have failed to accomplish their objectives. This is mostly evidenced by the current Israeli Government’s refusal to resume negotiations starting from the negotiations steps that were taken by the previous government.

And on the nuclear weapons question he said,

    Our talks also considered the Iranian nuclear issue. The Kingdom reiterates its support of the P-1+5 or the 1+5 group to solve the crisis peacefully through dialogue, and we call for a continuation of those efforts. We also call upon Iran to respond to these efforts to remove regional and international suspicions towards its nuclear program…

    The Kingdom also stresses the importance of regional and international efforts being focused on having the Middle East and the Gulf region being totally free from all weapons of mass destruction, notably nuclear weapons. It also stresses the criteria that the standards must apply to all states in the region without exception, including Israel’s nuclear program. History testifies that any weapon that enter the region has been used.

It’s really a pity that the WaPo’s’s Glenn Kessler spent so little time in the despatches he published today actually exploring and explaining the Saudi Foreign Minister’s positions on these matters, and ways too much time drooling over the lavishness of the dinner King Abdullah laid on for Sec. Clinton.

Including in this gem of out-of-place reporting: “The food selection was worthy of an elaborate wedding, a Hollywood opening or a fancy bar mitzvah.”

In this piece of more political reporting, I think Kessler quite possibly misinterpreted what Prince Saud said about China and its role in the whole diplomatic effort over Iran.

In the State Department transcript of Saud’s remarks (which is all I can find, since they don’t appear to have been covered by the Saudi Press Agency), a questioner asked this of him:

    there’s been a lot of talk about the role that Saudi Arabia could play by reassuring the Chinese that it will guarantee a reliable supply of oil in the event that there were some disruptions in the global oil supply. I wonder whether you have conveyed that message to the Chinese Government. And if you haven’t conveyed it, do you think it makes sense for Saudi Arabia to take that step?

And he replied,

    Saudi Arabia and its relations with China, of course, are a close relationship, and especially the economic sphere (inaudible) produces of oil that is exported to China. But it is not a matter of just Saudi Arabia and China; we have to come with a real plan to prevent the proliferation of atomic weapons in the region. This is why we put our proposal that the region be free, declared free of atomic weapons and weapons of mass destruction. We believe that is the right approach…

    I am sure the Chinese carry their responsibility as one of the five permanent members of the United Nations very seriously and they need no suggestion from Saudi Arabia to do what they ought to do according to their responsibility.

To me, this looks most like a polite brush-off to the whole idea– which was peddled by ‘Washington insiders’ quite heavily in the lead-up to Hillary’s trip– that strongarming China would be something Saudi Arabia could contribute to the anti-Iran campaign. Saud was quite right to note that China, “need[s] no suggestion from Saudi Arabia to do what they ought to do according to their responsibility.”

Kessler, however, interpreted Saud’s reply as signaling “impatience with China’s reluctance to embrace tough action against Tehran.” I’m not sure it was signaling that, at all.

I need to underline that the lousy, lazy, and Washington-bubble-bound way that Kessler and other MSM journos report on attitudes in the Arab world just feeds into the idea that one hears a lot here, namely that Iran’s Arab neighbors really “want” the U.S. to become assertive against Iran. (Also, that they really don’t give a damn about Palestine.)

It ain’t so. And a close reading of Prince Saud’s very polite comments, or of the interactions with the townterview participants in Qatar would clearly indicate that.

But Kessler and the rest of the MSM journos seem not to have learned anything from the history of the past years. They never heard a Washington war-drum that they didn’t want to help beat.

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Clinton & Saudi king nibble and joke around while watching TV …

February 16th, 2010 Comments off

NYTimes/ here

The king of Saudi Arabia had Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton over for a friendly lunch Monday here at his desert camp, northeast of Riyadh. In a gesture of informality, King Abdullah reached for his remote control and switched on a giant flat-screen TV as soon as they sat down to eat at the vast horseshoe-shaped table.
With sports scores and highlights from a soccer match blaring from the screen, the king and Mrs. Clinton chatted over a buffet of lamb, rice, hummus and other dishes. At times, they lapsed into silence and stared at the TV, which, as if on cue, covered Mrs. Clinton’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
It was not clear whether the high volume also allowed King Abdullah to discuss private matters with his guest without the rest of the room eavesdropping. (In another gesture to Mrs. Clinton, King Abdullah made a rare exception and invited journalists traveling with her to the lunch.)
By all accounts, the king’s meeting with President Obama in June did not go well. Mr. Obama pressed him to make diplomatic gestures toward Israel, but the king balked and the president left empty-handed.
This time, King Abdullah seemed determined to strike the right mood. He sent his ultraluxurious tour bus to pick up Mrs. Clinton at the airport for the hourlong drive to his camp. The foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, regaled her with jokes and stories about camels on the way.
Prince Saud’s stories provided the grist for Mrs. Clinton to break the ice when she arrived at the encampment, a guarded complex with a fleet of helicopters and air-conditioned trailers surrounding a six-pointed black tent that resembled nothing so much as a circus big top.
“I want you to know, your majesty, that his highness thinks camels are ugly,” Mrs. Clinton said with a grin, pointing to Prince Saud.
“I think his highness was not being fair to camels,” the king replied.

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The Saudis regard Syria’s relations with Iran as a prime reason why Tehran has been able to project its power & influence into the Arab, Sunni world..

January 14th, 2010 Comments off

In the National/ here

“… As always, the Saudis will also be keen to see how much daylight Mr Assad is willing to put between his country and Iran. The Saudis regard Syria’s relations with the Shiite country as a prime reason why Iran has been able to project its power and influence into the Arab, mostly Sunni, world in recent years.Iran works closely with Hizbollah in Lebanon, Shiite factions in Iraq, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It has also been accused of fomenting the Houthi rebellion in Yemen, which has spilled over into Saudi Arabia in recent months.
The Saudis do not expect Syria to break completely with Iran, but they want to see it give more priority to Arab affairs, observers say.
The two leaders will confer tonight in Riyadh and then Mr Assad will travel to Jeddah for a two-day personal visit during which he will perform Umrah in Mecca.
Mr Assad’s visit comes as US and European officials are working behind the scenes to rescue the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On Tuesday evening, the White House national security adviser, James Jones, held talks with King Abdullah in Riyadh as part of a brief Middle East tour that will also take Mr Jones to Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the Middle East, is in Europe.
Prince Saud spoke during a news conference with the visiting Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi. In their talks, the two men discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s perceived pursuit of nuclear weapons, Iraq’s internal stability and several other interests of mutual concern, “including reform of the UN Security Council”, the Saudi foreign minister said.
Mr Yang, who noted that this was “the 20th anniversary of relations between Saudi Arabia and China”, said his government believed that “the Iranian nuclear file should be solved through peaceful diplomatic negotiations”.
China will be among the six major powers set to meet next weekend in New York to discuss what to do in response to Iran’s refusal to comply with United Nations’ demands that it cease its nuclear enrichment programme. China, which depends on Iran for much of its energy needs, opposes tighter sanctions on Iran, a course that Washington and several other countries are expected to propose at the meeting.”

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Hamas pledges loyalty to Arabs -Saudi

January 5th, 2010 Comments off

Exiled Hamas leader Meshaal assures Kingdom his movement is loyal to Arab states, Prince Saud al-Faisal says.
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Riyadh has failed to square this circle: Iran & US and/or Israeli strike …

December 13th, 2009 Comments off

” …. Although described as “enjoying full health” and looking animated, Sultan is believed to still be unwell. In Sultan’s absence, King Abdullah named interior minister Prince Nayef to the vacant post of second deputy prime minister, a position construed as crown-prince-in-waiting. Apart from marking a fresh twist in a drawn-out succession process, Sultan’s return has implications for Saudi domestic and foreign policy — particularly, on the eve of a Gulf summit, the continuing tension on the border with Yemen and a potentially nuclear Iran.
Sultan’s return changes calculations on the political dynamics of the Saudi royal family, the House of Saud. Sultan is one of the so-called Sudairi princes, the largest and most powerful group of full brothers among the twenty surviving sons of Ibn Saud, the founder of the modern kingdom. Many of King Abdullah’s policy innovations since 2005, when he assumed the throne upon the death of King Fahd (another Sudairi), have been interpreted as attempts to outflank the Sudairis by spreading power to other parts of the royal family. Despite these efforts, his March appointment of Nayef (also a Sudairi) suggests the limits of Abdullah’s powers…
Succession is a growing issue because King Abdullah, now eighty-six, is the oldest-ever surviving Saudi monarch. Although apparently in good health himself, the state of Abdullah’s half brothers is of increasing concern: five are in their eighties; most are in their seventies. Last month, eighty-one-year-old Prince Mitab resigned without explanation as minister of local government, suggesting ill health. Prince Mishal, has just returned home from unspecified medical treatment in Beirut.
….. Claims of Sultan’s good health bolster his status as crown prince, but his advanced age, suggesting frailty and infirmity, might jeopardize his chances. Sultan’s exact age is disputed: most scholars say that he was born in 1924, …. the government-owned Saudi Press Agency reported that Sultan was born in 1930, although yesterday it reported his birthdate as January 1931, making him seventy-eight and younger than several of his ailing half-brothers. Public debate over the question of any incipient ill health does not arise in a pliant media: Sultan was said to have had colon cancer in 2003, but a foreign correspondent who later reported continuing concerns about it was forced to leave the country.
Although on December 5 Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi described the approximately $75-per-barrel price of ail as “perfect,” the kingdom is experiencing new and unusually public criticism of how it is spending the revenues……….
Riyadh is also disturbed by continuing tension on the border with Yemen, where Saudi military forces have been engaged against Houthi rebels said to have crossed into Saudi territory. The problem is complicated by Saudi and Yemeni claims of Iranian support of the Houthi forces, lending to the struggle the dimension of a proxy war. Despite claims of successes, the fighting has not been going entirely well for the Saudi forces. At least one small group of special forces has been wiped out by rebel units, and Saudi officials have released the names of nine missing soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel. Online reports indicate that some of the missing have been found in Yemeni territory, a contentious issue because King Abdullah has said no soldiers will cross the border.
As defense minister since 1962, Sultan likely is particularly concerned about the Yemeni tension; his son Prince Khalid, the assistant minister of defense, has taken a lead role in the current crisis. Observers have noted that when King Abdullah convened the supreme economic council last month, the roles of chairman and vice chairman, previously held by Abdullah and Sultan, were transferred to foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (a close ally of Abdullah) and Nayef’s son, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, rather than to a son of Sultan…..
The kingdom’s greatest concerns — confided privately to U.S. officials — are that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon and that either the U.S. or Israel, or both, will take military action against Iran. So far, Riyadh has failed to square this circle: President Obama’s June visit showed that the kingdom’s fear of Iran has not been matched by any willingness to make minor concessions to Israel that might, in effect, unite the Arab world and Israel to meet the challenge of Iran.
Both the transfer of power within Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s place as regional leader are crucial issues for Washington. Saudi Arabia must also tackle the threat of instability seeping across the border from Yemen, as well as the danger posed by Islamic radicalism and the attraction it may pose for Saudi youth. Rivalry over succession in Saudi Arabia is not new, but the return of Sultan is likely to accentuate it. Washington can do little to affect the House of Saud’s internal discussions, but the Obama administration must nonetheless make Riyadh aware that it will be watching the outcomes carefully.”

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Just how inept is Ross as a ‘Mideast expert’??

August 2nd, 2009 Comments off

Short answer: extremely.

In case anyone is in any doubt, they should read the transcript of what Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at the end of his meeting with Hillary Clinton in Washington yesterday.

The core of what he said there:

    I would be remiss if I didn’t express our thanks and appreciation to President Obama and to Secretary Clinton for their early and robust focus on trying to bring peace to the Middle East…

    It is time for all people in the Middle East to be able to lead normal lives. Incrementalism and a step-by-step approach has not and– we believe– will not achieve peace. Temporary security, confidence-building measures will also not bring peace. What is required is a comprehensive approach that defines the final outcome at the outset and launches into negotiations over final status issues: borders, Jerusalem, water, refugees and security.

This is a resounding slap in the face for the approach of using lengthy “interim” periods and “confidence building measures” (CBMs) that was a hallmark of Israeli-Palestinian conflict management (not conflict termination) diplomacy, as practiced by Dennis Ross for eight years under Pres. Clinton.

CBMs, of course, were a concept first developed in great detail in US-Soviet diplomacy in the ramp-down phase of the Cold War. That, indeed, was the field in which Dennis got his core academic training. He later rebranded himself, never terribly credibly, as a “Middle East expert.” His main credential in this new field ended up being the abysmal record he racked up as a failed “peacemaker” for those eight years in the Clinton administration.

Oh, and then there was the term he served as founding president of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute from 2006 through earlier this year… Did that make him a “Middle East expert”, I wonder?

This whole concept of CBMs has made an eery comeback into Washington’s Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy since the arrival of Dennis Ross in the White House at the end of June.

Laura Rozen blogged last week that she had,

    confirmed that President Barack Obama has sent letters to at least seven Arab and Gulf states seeking confidence-building measures toward Israel, which Washington has been pushing to agree to a freeze of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

    One former senior U.S. official who was aware of the letters said they had been sent “recently” to seven Arab states, including the leaders of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The letters reinforce “the Mitchell message re: the need for CBMs [confidence-building measures] in exchange for [settlement] freeze and to [get] peace talks restarted,” the former senior official said by e-mail.

    “These letters were sent some time ago,” a White House official told Foreign Policy Sunday, when asked about them. “The president has always said that everyone will have to take steps for peace. This is just the latest instance of this sentiment.”

    The official declined to provide a date of the letters, but said, “they’d been reported before a month or two ago.”

Coincidentally– or not– one of the big campaigns that AIPAC is currently running is to get US legislators to sign onto a letter “urging” Obama to push Arab states to give up-front CBMs to Israel…

Arab leaders and their citizens have seen this movie before.

In the 1990s, many Arab states moved to end the “secondary boycott” they had previously maintained against international companies doing business with Israel; and some, like Qatar, even took some other small steps toward “normalization” like opening an Israeli trade office in their capitals. That was entirely predicated on Israel making the real progress that was mandated by the Oslo Accord to concluding a final-status peace agreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), before the defined deadline of May 1999.

Never happened. The deadline came and went. The Israeli government just went on waffling, with the ever-eager help of Dennis Ross in the White house. And the Israeli government also kept on shoe-horning additional tens of thousands of new illegal settlers into the occupied territories each year…

In the piece that Roger Cohen has in tomorrow’s NYT magazine on US policy toward Iran, there is a telling vignette that reveals just how deeply Dennis Ross does not qualify as anything even approaching a “Middle East expert”:

    On April 29, in Dammam, in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, Ross sat down with King Abdullah. He talked to a skeptical monarch about the Obama administration’s engagement policy with Iran — and talked and talked and talked. When the king finally got to speak, according to one U.S. official fully briefed on the exchange, he began by telling Ross: “I am a man of action. Unlike you, I prefer not to talk a lot.” Then he posed several pointed questions about U.S. policy toward Iran: What is your goal? What will you do if this does not work? What will you do if the Chinese and the Russians are not with you? How will you deal with Iran’s nuclear program if there is not a united response? Ross, a little flustered, tried to explain that policy was still being fleshed out.

Dennis Ross, let’s remember, supposedly dealt closely with the Saudis throughout the eight years he was Pres. Clinton’s chief Middle East adviser. He also dealt closely with them, though in a subordinate role, when he worked for Sec. of State James Baker during and after the 1990-91 Gulf crisis and war.

But then, he didn’t even really know to deal with them at all, come 2009? He just talked (and talked and talked…) at the Saudi monarch– and couldn’t even deal with the few, to-the-point questions that the king came back to him with?

I don’t know if he tried to raise the issue of CBMs-for-Israel with King Abdullah during that meeting. But evidently, this issue has been pitched to Riyadh as well as other Arab capitals in recent weeks.

And now, Prince Saud has come to Washington to give a definitive and very public answer on the CBMs question.

Of course, it riles the heck out of many Americans, including especially many members of Congress, that they can’t just wave the wand of economic aid over the big Arab oil-exporting countries like Saudi Arabia to get to do what they (and AIPAC) want them to do….

Also significant: In that same State Department transcript, Sec. Clinton uses a significant– and in my view, significantly flawed– way to describe the US’s role in the current Israeli-Palestinian pre-negotiation.

She said,

    There is no substitute for a comprehensive resolution. That is our ultimate objective. In order to get to the negotiating table, we have to persuade both sides that they can trust the other side enough to reach that comprehensive agreement.

This is completely, still, that same “trust-building” or “confidence-building” approach to mediation/negotiation that was used to such dismally unsuccessful effect during the Bill Clinton administration when– acting on Dennis’s advice– Pres. Clinton saw his role as only that of a facilitator trying to build “trust” between the two parties.

No. The US is not just a “facilitator”. The US is a party with a strong and direct national interest in getting all the strands of the Arab-Israeli conflict speedily and finally resolved in a way that is sufficiently fair to all sides that the outcome is sustainable for many generations to come.

So the role of the US “mediator” is not just to “persuade” and nudge the countries to the point where they can “trust each other” (and to do this prior to the negotiation starting???) But rather, the US role should be to:

    1. Reaffirm its own strong interest in a speedy, fair and sustainable end to all dimensions of the Israeli-Arab conflict;

    2. Reaffirm that the outcome it seeks is one based on international law and the longstanding resolutions 242 and 338 of the UN Security Council;

    3. Affirm (for the first time in many decades) its readiness to use all the instruments of national power at its disposal to win the speedy, fair, and sustainable final peace agreements between Israel and all its Arab neighbors; and

    4. Reaffirm that it stands ready to work with its partners in the Quartet to provide all the guarantees the parties might need regarding monitoring all steps of the (most likely phased) implementation of these peace agreements.

In other words, it is at that stage– the stage of implementing the different phases of a final peace whose full content has already been agreed– that the sides themselves can really start to build the “confidence” or trust of the other side…. And the US and its peace-monitoring partners can certainly help that process along.

But to imply that you need full trust between the two sides to the dispute before you expect them even to sit down at the peace table?? That’s nuts!

The process of so-called “confidence building” that Dennis Ross was so happy to see dragging on for years and years in the 1990s did not end up building up any trust at all. Just the opposite. It built mistrust– on both sides. Not least, because people still locked into the dispute on the ground had no idea where the final process was heading– so every little altercation between them became a huge existential issue that had to be fought over “to the death.”

And meanwhile, Ross’s good friends in the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute were able to implant thousands of additional settlers into occupied Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. How “lucky” for them, eh?

This time, someone should tell Sec. Clinton– and best of all her boss, the president– that you don’t need to build full trust between the sides before the negotiation starts.

What you need to build is a healthy and realistic recognition from each of the parties that:

    * the US has its own strong interest in the success of this peacemaking project,

    * the US is prepared to use its national power to secure fair and sustainable final peace agreements between all the parties, and

    * the US stands ready to use its national power to help guarantee the implementation of these agreements.

So now, Pres. Obama, let’s get on with it.

I also note, parenthetically, that Saud al-Faisal seemed to be placing more emphasis on getting the final peace negotiations started than on getting Obama’s demand for a complete Israeli settlement freeze implemented. I think that’s the right emphasis.

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