debkafile Exclusive: Celebration of Saudi participation in international peace conference is premature, Saudi-US differences still acute
The Iranian nuclear threat, the Iraq crisis, the Israel-Palestinian conflict – and the handling thereof – all remain at issue between Saudi rulers and Washington after the talks held by US secretaries Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates with Saudi rulers in Jeddah Wednesday, Aug. 1 – according to debkafile‘s Middle East sources.
The two sides agreed to continue to hammer away at these differences in further discussions. King Abdullah said he might send delegates to sit alongside Israeli officials at the international peace conference President Bush projects for the autumn, only his conditions were stiff if not prohibitive: The agenda must cover practical steps for Israel’s full withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, repatriation of the 1948 Palestinian refugees and the foundation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem its capital.
The Saudi king is flatly opposed to an American military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations as well as economic sanctions for isolating the Islamic Republic. He stands by his opposition to the Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad and demanded of his two American visitors guarantees for Sunni Muslim rights in Iraq.
The Saudi government challenges the US-Israeli policy of support for Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and the boycott of Hamas in Gaza. Abdullah demanded that they lift all boycott measures and embark on steps for restoring the short-lived Palestinian national unity government.
America’s offer of a $20 billion arms transaction was shunted to the sidelines for defense secretary Gates to discuss with Prince Khaled Bin Sultan, assistant to the Saudi defense minister, Crown Prince Sultan – who happened to be away in Cairo – and air force commander Gen. Muhammad Ayish.
debkafile‘s military sources report that both the Americans and Saudis agreed that the transaction is still in its very early stages; neither the items for sale nor terms of payment have yet been thrashed out. However, Riyadh will insist on the latest word in US weapons technology, including the F-22 Raptor warplane.
Attempts to present Saudi Arabia as a moderate Arab nation backing the moderate Abbas regime in Ramallah, so as to place Israeli aid in an inter-Arab context, are misleading, to put it mildly. Not a single Saudi dollar has reached the exchequer in Ramallah; nor will it until Abbas buries the hatchet with Hamas and heals the breach caused by the Islamist group’s anti-Fatah coup in Gaza last month.