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Saudi-US Rift Causes Severe Diplomatic Strain

  • Meredith Buel

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States are causing a severe strain on what has been a rock-solid relationship. Saudi officials are expressing anger and concern over America’s evolving policies in the Middle East.

Saudi government officials are fuming over U.S. policy regarding the bloody Syrian civil war.

In Egypt, the Saudis are supporting the military-backed government.

While the United States is suspending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid following the coup which ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

But mostly the Saudis are worried about the military strength of arch-rival Iran.

And a possible thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran over the country’s controversial nuclear program.

Clifford May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies:

“The signs are that the Saudis are angry, that they are exasperated, that they are frustrated and I think if you had to come down to a one line reason why, it is because the U.S. is not showing leadership in the Middle East at this moment," said May.

Riyadh is unhappy the U.S. has not been more aggressive in arming the Syrian rebels.

And the Saudis complained about the White House decision to embrace an agreement to remove Syria’s chemical weaponw - rather than launch a cruise missile strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who now appears to be in a stronger position.

“I don’t see any obstacles to being nominated to run in the next elections," said Assad.

Riyadh even rejected a seat on the U.N. Security Council, citing its lack of success in resolving conflicts in the Middle East.

Middle East analyst Hany Al-Gamal:

“It actually wants the international community to know that Saudi Arabia, as a well-off country and a significant regional power, should have a say on the issue of the Syria crisis, and no one should impose their own views on others," said Al-Gamal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he understands the Saudis' disappointment with some of Washington’s decisions, but says the allies are working together.

“And I am convinced we are on the same page as we are proceeding forward, and I look forward to working very closely with our Saudi friends and allies," said Kerry.

Riyadh is most concerned about the Obama’s administration’s potential for warmer relations with Iran, following a highly symbolic phone call between the U.S. president and his new Iranian counterpart.

Again, Clifford May:

“The Saudis depend on U.S. leadership in that region and they see the alternative, frankly as the rise of Iran as a bully, a hegemon, eventually, maybe sooner rather than later, a nuclear-armed master of the Middle East," he said.

Analysts say it is too early to know whether Saudi Arabia’s anger with Washington is a diplomatic spat or a significant split in bilateral relations.
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