Saudi King Abdullah leaves Washington next week with some shiny new international crowns atop his kefiya.
He has been acknowledged as a world-class political and financial player by the outgoing and incoming US presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
His invitation to the G-20 summit, summoned by Bush to discuss the world’s economic crisis on Nov. 14-15 opened the door of the world’s most exclusive club to the oil kingdom, alongside Russia, China, Brazil and India. The 85-year old monarch was the only Gulf, Arab or Muslim ruler to be invited.
And on Nov. 12, he lorded it over 50 leaders representing the world’s major races and faiths at an inter-faith conference in New York, the product of his vision that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon honored with his patronage.
Abdullah will stop over in Morocco to rest from his exertions before arriving home to crow over his Islamist enemies, chiefly al Qaeda. He has purged his realm of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist cells, but not blocked its covert funding conduits from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
The king will rebut complaints from inside the royal house about the time he spends dabbling in international diplomatic ventures instead of focusing on domestic woes and boosting Saudi Arabia’s strength for contending with Iran. The king will show them all that his international kudos are high enough for the US and the world to come running to Riyadh for solutions when they are overtaken by financial crises, and when the US has its military back to the wall against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Abdullah deals with Obama on financial aid terms
Since the Saudi ruler plays his cards close to his chest, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources cannot confirm how far he intends to respond to Washington’s requests for several hundred billion dollars to ease the financial pressure besetting the American and global economy.
The first US approach in July, before the current crisis erupted, met with a polite refusal from the king. The rest of the Gulf lined up behind him.
This month, the Americans experimented with an intermediary:
British premier George Brown arrived in Riyadh covered in plaudits for his audacity in fathering the bail-out system for troubled banks in the West. He left loaded with decorations and empty-handed. Abdullah told the British leader cagily that the case he presented would be duly considered and a decision delivered at the G-20 conference in Washington. It was understood that the Saudi monarch might meet expectations to some extent.
But with the US presidency in transition, any financial commitments by the Saudi king would have to be validated by some sort of understanding with president-elect Obama, which would have to be informal until he is sworn in next January.
Confidential conversations therefore began this week with the incoming president’s top advisers. The groundwork was laid in a phone conversation which Abdullah held with Obama as soon as he landed in New York.
US must sign onto integrated Gulf security pact
They may or may not meet in Washington before the monarch flies out. A meeting would signify that those talks had made good progress, or even reached accord.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in New York reveal the fairly stiff list of stipulations the Saudis have laid down for Obama’s team as the price for a rescue package:
1. The United States must actively participate in an integrated security system for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which Saudi Arabia set up in 1981 for Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to coordinate resistance to outside intervention. The US must work “honestly” towards a regional security system based on mutual trust.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly notes: This demand arises from deep disappointment with the failure of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to make good on their pledges to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon. Instead, Gulf rulers saw Washington going its own way and engaging Tehran for a deal on Iraq, while leaving the GCC behind.
Riyadh wants to be sure that Obama’s avowed intention to hold direct talks with Iran’s rulers will be coordinated with the GCC as a full partner – not an outsider.
2. Washington must promise to redesign trade rules to make them more open to, and tolerant of, the Gulf emirates’ endemic practice of state intervention in international trade.
Denuclearize Iran and Israel
3. A genuine effort must be made to apply the nuclear non-proliferation’s provisions so that they lead to substantial reductions in the nuclear powers’ arsenals. Non-NPT members must be pressured to join.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly explains that this clause is aimed not only at preventing Iran’s nuclearization but, still more importantly, at compelling Israel to sign the Non-proliferation Treaty and possibly reduce its unadmitted nuclear stocks.
4. Riyadh wants guarantees that systematic imbalances will not be tolerated in the international financial system, even in the US, and that Sovereign Wealth Funds will not suffer discrimination.
5. Washington must stand foursquare behind four Saudi diplomatic initiatives to broker regional conflicts:
- King Abdullah’s 2002 peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute [which has been partly endorsed by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert;]
- Dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban;
- A united Iraq in which all its communities share power;
- Engagement with Iran on a regional not a unilateral American basis.
- Dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban;
Our Saudi experts interpret the Saudi provisions as meaning that the quid pro quo Riyadh is seeking for its financial rescue fund is political. Saving distressed American financial institutions and industries is not the object but rather a solid commitment from the future Obama administration that its foreign and financial policies will be aligned with the Saudi king in areas in which the Saudis own interests, particularly regional trouble spots.
How far the incoming US president is prepared to play by Abdullah’s rules will not be apparent for weeks or even months.