Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Saturday, March 29, 2014
GCC Updates March 29 , 2014 -- Saudi King channels John McCain, demands Obama Take Hard Line on Iran, Syria, Muslim Brotherhood ...... While The Washington Post reported on Friday that the US was ready to increase covert aid to Syrian rebels under a new plan which included training efforts by the CIA, and was considering supplying MANPADS ( note The White House has not closed the door to the possibility of such a move in the future, but an official said its position had not changed. ) ...... Doha: Qatar announced contracts worth about $23 billion (Dh84.5 billion) on Thursday to buy attack helicopters, guided missiles, tankers and other weapons from Boeing Co, Airbus and other arms makers as the Gulf state accelerates its military build-up.
Saudi King channels John McCain, demands Obama Take Hard Line on Iran, Syria, Muslim Brotherhood
President Barack Obama met late Friday with King Abdullah b. Abd al-Aziz of Saudi Arabia at the latter’s desert camp, flying out from Riyadh by helicopter.
The tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States have come about in part because Riyadh, after being skittish about George W. Bush’s muscular Neoconservatism in the region, has now swung around and adopted a set of foreign policy stances far closer to those of the Republican Party in the US than to the Obama administration. Given that Saudi Arabia is a deeply conservative, religious state based almost entirely on the petroleum industry, it is no accident that it is a Red State in American political terms.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia a decade ago worked against Bush’s refusal to talk to the Iranians, calling that country’s president and foreign minister to Riyadh. But despite an Iranian overture to the Saudis since the election of current President Hassan Rouhani, the king and his closest advisers are against Obama’s attempt to get a deal with Iran that would let Tehran enrich uranium to low levels for nuclear fuel. Like the Israelis, the Saudis want the US to push Iran into closing down its nuclear enrichment program (which Iran maintains is for peaceful civilian energy purposes) altogether. This goal is of course impossible to achieve without an invasion and occupation of Iran by the US, which is not going to happen while Obama is in office.
The Saudis also want the US to allow the supply to Syrian rebels of anti-aircraft and other heavy weaponry. Obama’s decision not to get involved directly in Syria, from a Saudi point of view, has allowed the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad to recover the momentum in pushing back the rebels.
And, the Saudis want the US to accept the coup d’etat in Egypt against Muslim Brotherhood president Muhammad Morsi, and to support the military government.
Zuhayr al-Harithi of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Saudi Consultative Council that advises the king said that the monarch wanted to impress on Obama the magnitude of the dangers and challenges in the region, which require and adjustment of current US policy.
The Saudis wanted to hear more about the safeguards the US will implement against an Iranian nuclear weapons program, but wanted to pursue aspects of Iran policy beyond the nuclear issue — presumably, Iran’s support for al-Assad in Syria and Hizbullah in Lebanon. The Saudis are supporting Salafi and Sunni rebels against the secular nationalist Baath Party, which has many Alawite Shiites at the top of it. Twelver Shiite Hizbullah policy is opposed by Saad Hariri, the Lebanese Sunni politician who is a client of Saudi Arabia.
Some other Gulf Arab concerns were laid out by Ibtisam Al Ketbi. She is a policy thinker in the UAE but her views on foreign policy overlap with those of Riyadh. She adds a concern about Shiite triumphalism in Iraq to the list of issues, along with a concern for successful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for a Palestinian state. (The Palestine issue is the only major one where the Saudi position is the opposite from the GOP one).
Aside from providing a bit more US covert aid to the “moderate” Sunni rebels in Syria, however, it is difficult to see how Obama can actually make King Abdullah happy. The differences in policy cannot easily be bridged. The US doesn’t want the Syrian rebels (who are now dominated by al-Qaeda affiliates) to have heavy weapons. Presumably, however much the Israelis hate Bashar al-Assad, they don’t want al-Qaeda types being able to shoot El Al airliners out of the sky with Manpads.
Obama wants an Iran deal, which would be a game changer for US foreign policy in the region, and believes that safeguards can indeed be put in place preventing Iran from putting its low-level enrichment of uranium to bomb-building purposes.
Obama has done what he can to hold the Egyptian military harmless from its coup against Morsi, but the left wing of the Democratic Party is not happy about continuing US aid as normal, given military rule. Perhaps if Egypt moves quickly to fairly transparent elections, the Washington-Cairo relationship can begin to be repaired. But the Obama administration doesn’t think persecuting, shooting down and executing Muslim Brothers is wise and fears it will lead to radicalization.
The Israel-Palestine negotiations look likely to fail by the end of April, quite decisively, and Riyadh is not going to be happy about it. From a Saudi point of view, such a failure would show that Obama proved unwilling to pressure Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu sufficiently.
Obama has a tendency to believe that personal contact can paper over policy differences. One remembers the painful meeting he staged over Obamacare with Republican senators, hoping he could find some compromise, only to be universally rejected and scolded. Likewise, his spokesman talked of the importance of looking King Abdullah in the eye.
But Obama is not a hawk on Iran, is convinced a US intervention in Syria would lead to a quagmire, isn’t happy with the Egyptian military, and can hardly be expected actually to intervene effectively in Iraq or the Israel-Palestine issue, which are based on ground truths that the US cannot alter from 30,000 feet.
Riyadh Gov. Khalid bin Bandar saw @BarackObama off at airport rather than top power royal. Kreminology: Saudis may think visit went badly.
Nor is it clear that King Abdullah’s new Neoconservatism is wise. A deal with Iran will benefit Saudi Arabia in reducing Gulf tensions. Riyadh’s fixation with overthrowing the Syrian government has helped cause a civil war that could well blow back on Saudi Arabia.
No drama Obama may be exactly what the Middle East needs, not a Wahhabi Saudi Arabia on steroids.
Free Syrian Army fighters drag a body of a fellow fighter after he was killed by what the FSA said was during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad near Base 80 near Aleppo International airport, November 8, 2013. Forces loyal to al-Assad backed by a dawn barrage of artillery fire and airstrikes drove Syrian rebels from a strategic military base near the disputed northern city of Aleppo on Friday, a local photographer said. The advance into Base 80, a large military position which rebels have held since February, will help Assad's forces move towards rebel-held areas of Aleppo city and follows a string of successful offensives this month.
Riyadh: US President Barack Obama, making his first visit to Saudi Arabia since 2009, met King Abdullah on Friday for two hours of talks that aides said would focus on Middle East peace, Iran and ways to strengthen moderate Syrian rebels.
The elderly king, accompanied by a number of senior princes, had the meeting at his desert farm at Rawdat Khuraim northeast of the capital Riyadh, witnesses said.
The king and Obama, there with US Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, made no public statements.
But in the run up to the visit, officials had said Obama would aim to persuade the monarch that Saudi concerns that Washington was slowly disengaging from the Middle East and no longer listening to its old ally were unfounded.
Last year senior Saudi officials warned of a “major shift” away from Washington after bitter disagreements about its response to the “Arab spring” uprisings, and policy towards Iran and Syria, where Riyadh wants more American support for rebels.
Saudi Arabia is backing the insurgents in their battle to oust Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, who is supported by Riyadh’s rival, Iran.
US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said coordination with the kingdom on Syria policy, particularly regarding providing assistance to the Syrian rebels, had improved.
“That’s part of the reason why I think our relationship with the Saudis is in a stronger place today than it was in the fall (autumn) when we had some tactical differences about our Syria policy,” he told reporters on Air Force One.
Empowering moderate opposition
Rhodes added that one of the main topics Obama and Abdullah would discuss would be how to empower the moderate opposition to counter Assad and isolate extremist groups.
One area where Riyadh has long differed from Washington is in Obama’s reluctance to supply rebels with surface-to-air missiles, sometimes known as MANPADS.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that the US was ready to increase covert aid to Syrian rebels under a new plan which included training efforts by the CIA, and was considering supplying MANPADS.
The White House has not closed the door to the possibility of such a move in the future, but an official said its position had not changed.
Obama has shown himself wary of being drawn into another conflict in the Muslim world after working hard to end or reduce American military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, supplies less petroleum to the United States than in the past, safeguarding its energy output remains important to Washington, as does its cooperation in combating Al Qaida.
The Saudis also want more reassurance on American intentions regarding talks over Iran’s nuclear programme, which might eventually lead to a deal that ends sanctions on Tehran in exchange for concessions on its atomic facilities.
Riyadh fears such a deal could come at the expense of Sunni Arabs in the Middle East, some of whom fear that Iran will take advantage of any reduction in international pressure to spread its influence by supporting co-religionists.
An editorial in the semi-official Al Riyadh newspaper on Friday said Obama did not know Iran as well as the Saudis, and could not “convince us that Iran will be peaceful”.
“Our security comes first and no one can argue with us about it,” it concluded.
Rhodes said Washington would not ignore Saudi concerns about Iranian action in the Middle East while it pursued a deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
“We’ll be making clear that even as we are pursuing the nuclear agreement with the Iranians, our concern about other Iranian behaviour in the region, its support for Al Assad, its support for Hezbollah, its destabilising actions in Yemen and the Gulf, that those concerns remain constant,” he said.
The Saudi king was accompanied in the talks by Crown Prince Salman, Prince Muqrin, who was named second-in-line to rule on Thursday, and Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal.
Powerful Interior Minister Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef, who recently met top US officials in Washington to discuss Syria, was not present according to a list of participants supplied by US officials.
Doha: Qatar announced contracts worth about $23 billion (Dh84.5 billion) on Thursday to buy attack helicopters, guided missiles, tankers and other weapons from Boeing Co, Airbus and other arms makers as the Gulf state accelerates its military build-up.
The world’s top liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter announced deals with about 20 global companies, including firms from the United States, which were awarded deals worth 27.5 billion riyals ($7.6 billion, Dh27.7 billion), said a spokeswoman for a Doha defence conference where the announcements were made.
The weapons purchases include large deals with Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and others.
Qatar, and other Gulf Arab and Middle Eastern countries are looking to acquire new high-tech military equipment to protect themselves from neighbouring Iran and internal threats after the Arab Spring uprising.
Boeing confirmed that the announcement included a contract to buy 24 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and three Boeing 737 Airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.
The deal for the helicopters was valued at 8.9 billion riyals, said the spokeswoman for the conference.
In Paris, France’s Defence Ministry said Qatar had agreed to buy 22 NH90 military helicopters from a unit of European aerospace group Airbus worth €2 billion ($2.76 billion, Dh10.1 billion) and two Airbus-made refuelling tankers.
NHIndustries is 62.5 per cent owned by Airbus’ Eurocopter helicopter unit, 32 per cent owned by AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy Finmeccanica’s and 5.5 per cent by Stork Fokker.
Qatar also committed to buy a Patriot missile defence system built by Raytheon equipped with PAC-3 missiles made by Lockheed; advanced daytime, high-definition sensors and radars for Apache helicopters; and Javelin missiles built by a Lockheed-Raytheon joint venture, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Raytheon had told analysts in January that it expected to finalise an order with Qatar in the first half of 2014 for over $2 billion in Patriot missile defence system equipment.
The Pentagon approved the sale to Qatar of $9.9 billion worth of Patriot fire units, radars, and various Raytheon and Lockheed missiles in November 2012.
The Defence Security Cooperation Agency, the US body that oversees foreign arms sales, notified lawmakers in July 2012 of a possible sale of Apache helicopters to Qatar.
A spokeswoman for the US agency had no immediate comment.
Washington has been keen to deepen its cooperation with Gulf nations, which have been long-standing allies, on missile defence and increase pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.
The Apache helicopters are built by Boeing and used by the US Army, Egypt, Greece, the Israeli regime, Japan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the UAE, and United Kingdom.
They will be fitted with Longbow radar equipment made by a joint venture of Lockheed and Northrop Grumman Corp.