King Abdullah Demands Direct US Action to Halt Iran’s Nuclearization – or Else…
US President Barack Obama's talks with Saudi King Abdullah at the White House on Tuesday, June 29, were more like a verbal wrestling match – especially on Iran and Riyadh's own nuclear armament plans, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report from Washington.
On Iran, President Obama tried to extract a Saudi royal pledge not to permit Israeli Air Force planes to cross its air space or build provisional refueling and ammo supply bases in the Saudi desert. These facilities would enable Israeli warplanes to bomb Iranian nuclear installations – not just once, but repeatedly after refueling and collecting fresh ordinance at the facilities set up in Saudi Arabia.
Such facilities would cut the 1,000-mile flight from Israel to Iran by more than half to just 400 miles.
The US president also asked the monarch to call off the coordination sessions taking place on the projected operation against Iran between high-ranking Saudi and Israeli military and intelligence officers. He said he had been troubled by the recent Times of London report of a Saudi exercise to test the compatibility of its aerial warning and defense systems with the electronics of Israeli fighter-bombers. Obama complained that Saudi and Israeli networks had been interconnected without prior notification to Washington which learned it had taken place well after the fact.
Instead of answering directly, King Abdullah tried a diversionary tactic, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington and Persian Gulf sources. He explained that Prince Moqrin Bin Abdulaziz, director of Saudi General Intelligence, was in charge of the interchanges with Israel and, had he known the subject would come up, he would have brought the prince along with him to the White House meeting.
The King gives the President the runaround
This answer went down badly. The last time Obama met Moqrin, at the April 13 nuclear security summit in Washington, the prince ducked questions on Saudi-Israeli military and intelligence collaboration versus Iran by referring the president to the king, whose policies he merely carried out.
In other words, the US president was treated to his second Saudi runaround.
This time, he was determined to get some answers. But when he pressed the point, the king switched tactics and angrily asked the president in return what direct measures Washington was pursuing to halt Iran's drive for nuclear arms. Diplomacy and sanctions were utterly useless, he asserted.
When Obama tried to impress the Saudi monarch with the next round of sanctions in the pipeline, King Abdullah shot back with a catalogue of Iranian ruses for bypassing those penalties.
Thursday, July 1, just two days after Abdullah departed Washington, the Wall Street Journal ran a story entitled "Iran Arms Syria with Radar-System that Could Help Tehran Dodge Israeli Strike."
The report was a signal to inform Riyadh that there was no point in counting on Israel to pull its Iranian nuclear chestnuts out of the fire because its air force no longer owned the advantage of surprise. Both the Saudis and Israelis had no choice but to depend on US radar and interception systems for any strike against Iran and would therefore do well to abandon their bilateral project.
All in all, American and Saudi officials summed up the Obama-Abdullah encounter as marking a widening if not unbridgeable gap on the Iranian issue.
Saudis own plans to acquire nuclear arms:
The atmosphere was even less amicable when Obama turned to his royal guest and challenged him to clarify a Saudi official's comments to Reuters on June 17 that Riyadh was not only planning to build nuclear power plants but also to install its own uranium enrichment facilities. He wanted to know how the Saudis could criticize Tehran for enriching uranium while preparing to do so itself and, in so doing, sabotaging the American drive for an international front to halt Iran's enrichment activities.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources report that every US intelligence effort to obtain a clear picture of the scope of the Saudi nuclear program and its actual uranium enrichment capabilities has failed. (See first item in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 442 of April 23: Saudis Begin Racing for a Nuke). For lack of information, the Americans fear the Saudis have progressed a lot further than they are willing to admit.
Obama got no change out of Abdullah on this question. The king offered the standard replies heard from most Middle East leaders these days, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Syrian President Bashar Assad, that all their nuclear fuel programs are peaceful.
This too went down badly with the US president, who went on to question the king about Saudi-Pakistani nuclear ties – again to no avail.
Behind his question was the discovery by US intelligence that the nuclear racketeer Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, had visited Saudi Arabia at least 50 times in the past three years.
Washington has asked Riyadh to explain these visits as well as the business ties A.Q Khan maintains with the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank notwithstanding repeated US requests to sever them.
At the end of the Obama-Abdullah conversation, it was obvious that Saudi nuclear policy, which the king manages personally, clashes with the US President's nonproliferation efforts on the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East and is irreconcilable with his avowed ambition to rid the world of nuclear arms.