“Suspended” labels were slapped this week on President Donald Trump’s vaunted Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (MsB)’s much-awaited Aramco IPO, shortly before the two leaders’ White House talks on March 19.
The prince spent the week before his White House visit going around US cities for a long-planned series of meetings to tout US investors for the first public offering of the Saudi Aramco oil giant. His interviews in New York City were set up by Michael Bloomberg; in Seattle he was hosted by Bill Gates. He made additional stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston and Boston. While laying the ground for future investments, MbS confided to his hosts in private that the offering billed for funding his Saudi Vision 2030 was delayed until next year.
The Aramco offering of five percent, the biggest stock sale ever made, was rescheduled for 2019 at the earliest in the middle of an effort to select an international venue for the listing. The delay finds the Saudi state-owned oil company struggling to arrive at the $2 trillion valuation sought by the prince. “In addition to listing on Tadawul – the Riyadh exchange – a range of international options are being held under active review,” said an Aramco spokesman. Our oil sources also believe that the crown prince wants to hold off on the IPO until oil prices are higher than they are at present, and prices are predictably boosted by a war escalation.
This suspension will shock the region, DEBKA Weekly’s Gulf and Riyadh sources report. It abruptly halts in its tracks the social and economic reform program launched by the Saudi crown prince only last year. Its centerpiece was to be the grand international free trade city, NOAM, to be built in the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba and spread across areas of the kingdom, Jordan, Egypt and Israel. The mega-city’s inauguration was to have symbolized the launch of Vision 2030. Deep cutbacks in the Saudi state budget will furthermore affect outlay on the wars in Yemen and Syria and the financial and military assistance Riyadh extends to fellow Arab nations, especially Egypt.
The other big plan put on a back burner this week was President Trump’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, DEBKA Weekly’s Washington sources report. On Wednesday, March 14, the president decided to take the plan off his immediate agenda. He briefed his special Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt to pass the word round among the officials from the Middle East who were attending a discussion at the White House the Gaza Strip’s humanitarian problems. Instead of making a public announcement, Greenblatt took Israeli and Arab delegates aside separately in a corridor to convey the news.
Asked about the reasoning behind the Trump peace plan’s postponement, and when it would be put back on his agenda, the envoy replied that not before a year or two. The decision came less than a week before the Saud Crown Prince was due at the White House for critical talks with the US President. Trump put the Palestinian issue at the bottom of his pending tray in order to focus fully on decision-making with regard to the far more pressing and complex issues of the Iranian and North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile threats. These threats are looming in the near distance.
The Iranian menace weighs heavily on the Saudi crown prince; he has therefore put his bright plans for the oil kingdom’s future on hold for so long as the region is preyed by this uncertainty.