News / Middle East

    Iran, Israel, Oil, Expected to Top Obama-Abdullah Talks

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    Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah visits President Obama at the White House Tuesday with current tensions over Iran's nuclear program and Palestinian statehood expected on the agenda. The visit comes just days before Mr. Obama is set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    The Saudi monarch's visit also comes just one day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country would postpone nuclear talks with major world powers until the end of August.

    And it comes after a recent U.N. Security Council vote to impose another round of sanctions against Tehran for its nuclear program and the U.S. Congress's approval of harsher unilateral sanctions against nations that supply Tehran with gasoline.

    Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and Director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  He told VOA that King Abdullah is likely to express his concerns over Washington's approach to Iran's nuclear threat.

    "He sees Iran as being an adversary for Saudi Arabia and a dangerous one as well.  He also sees diplomacy as not succeeding and insufficient to persuade Iran or to stop Iran from going nuclear,” said Henderson. He added, “ And I think he will be showing his frustration to President Obama that what the U.S. administration is trying to do now is too late and not enough."

    The Iranians say their nuclear program is for peaceful uses only.  The U.S. government says Tehran is trying to make weapons-grade nuclear material.

    Jon Alterman is director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  He agrees that King Abdullah will be looking for assurances that the American plan against Iran will work.

    "The Saudis have articulated a lot of reservations about whether sanctions are really going to do anything to keep the Iranians from getting a bomb if that is what they decide to do. And the Saudis feel that if the Iranians did have a bomb, they would be the first to feel it,” said Alterman.

    China -- one of the permanent members of the Security Council -- voted in favor of the sanctions. But China also consumes more than 7.5 million barrels of oil each day.

    Jon Alterman says King Abdullah is striking a delicate balance between the two powers - because China needs Saudi oil and the Saudis need U.S. security to keep the oil flowing worldwide. "China has very impressive energy demand growth going forward.  The United States has stagnant growth. Europe's oil use is going down. But on the other hand when it comes to security in the Gulf, the United States is the only country from outside the Gulf that can provide security for the Gulf in a comprehensive way. The Chinese cannot do it, the Chinese will not be able to do it for the foreseeable future and the Chinese do not want to do it," he said.

    Simon Henderson says that Beijing would prefer to keep its relationship with Iran separate from other countries' efforts to curtail Tehran's nuclear program. "And they would regard bilateral relations with Iran as being important in their own right.  And part of those bilateral relations is to import oil from Iran and to sell Chinese goods to Iran.  They do not like that being muddled up with the nuclear issue."

    King Abdullah is also expected to ask the United States to do more to resolve the Palestinian situation.

    Last year, President Obama revived a long-standing request for Saudi Arabia to move towards recognition of Israel. The Saudis said they will not make concessions beyond a 2002 Arab plan put forth by King Abdullah which offered recognition in exchange for Israel's return of the occupied territories and allowance of a Palestinian state.

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