US vice president Dick Cheney and Saudi crown prince Abdullah did not mince words when they met in Jeddah Saturday, March 16. Their conversation was neither polite nor particularly friendly – but it was of cardinal importance for the Bush administration’s next moves in its global war against terrorism.
The two leaders crossed swords, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report, over Cheney’s attempts to draw the Saudi ruler into lining up with America’s strategy for the Middle East and the Gulf. Abdullah spelled out the dangers he believes the kingdom and the monarchy would incur by toeing the political and military line the United States has drawn in the sands of the region. Cheney retorted that Saudi opposition would have dire consequences for both the House of Saud and the kingdom’s future.
Word of Cheney’s tough tone left the princes, kings and presidents and prime ministers of the region stunned. Until that moment, they had taken Bush’s declaration – that those who are not with us are against us – as a phrase that left them plenty of room for maneuver. Confronted with the vice president, the penny suddenly dropped: Bush meant his warning quite literally.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the Gulf, Cheney issued a series of ultimatums to Abdullah and demanded straight answers.
He put the desert kingdom on notice to line up with the United States’ war against Iraq and abandon its undercover political and economic relations with Saddam Hussein and the ayatollahs, else Washington would not think twice about placing the Saudi kingdom into isolation both in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
America would also withdraw its 60-year old guarantee to secure the reigning House of Saud.
The Saudi government was moreover told to start an immediate crackdown on all the elements in the realm aiding and succoring al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, in one way or another. Failing Saudi action, the United States was prepared to go after those elements itself, even if this meant arbitrarily interfering in Saudi internal affairs.
Piling on the pressure, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources say Cheney laid before Abdullah intelligence evidence of the undercover machinations of several princes, who were secretly pouring rivers of cash into al-Qaeda coffers, financing the fugitive group and its command center’s relocation from Afghanistan to Gulf and Middle East bases, and footing the bill for establishing its operatives in new locales (As reported in previous issues of DEBKA-Net-Weekly, Issue 42 of December 21, 2001, Issue 45 of January 18, 2002 and Issue 48 of February 2, 2002).
Cheney demanded an explanation of the rumors reaching Washington of Saudi tycoons and princes lobbying Arab financial bodies to close their accounts in American banks, lest the US government claim their money supported terrorists and impound it. Cheney cited a recent financial meeting in Beirut, organized by Saudi businessmen connected to Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, at which participants were quietly tipped off to move their assets out of the United States to banks in the Arab world.
The US vice president also filled the Saudi de facto monarch in on America’s blueprint for the Middle East’s future. That future would start unfolding when the offensive against Baghdad was underway. He spoke chiefly of the new formulae for solving the Kurdish and Palestinian problems.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, Iraq’s 5 million Kurds will be awarded a form of independence, thereby breaking Iraq up into segments so that it no longer poses a threat to Saudi Arabia or any of its neighbors.
As for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, he is deemed a write-off. Washington will make sure he is removed from the Palestinian Authority and replaced with an acceptable Palestinian leader or leaders. The United States, the vice president explained, intended casting the kingdom of Jordan and its army in the role of security patron over the West Bank province of the Palestinian state-to-be. King Abdullah II’s extensive European tour of recent weeks was aimed at spreading the word that Arafat is a back number and any more investment in him is pointless. Cheney advised the crown prince to take these developments into account when he tables his peace initiative at the Arab League summit in Beirut next week.
Cheney also repeated his earlier words to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak:
Arafat’s terrorist machine would be taken apart piece by piece and each component liquidated – from his “presidential guard” – Force 17 to his Fatah-Tanzim and al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, as well as the violent Hamas and Jihad Islami.
The Saudi crown prince was warned not to rely on the Europeans shielding Arafat, since Europe’s decision-makers were well aware of Washington’s views in this respect and were beginning to make the necessary policy adjustments.
After wielding his stick, Cheney offered Abdullah a carrot – the option of continuing Saudi Arabia’s historic cooperation with the United States and being welcomed at the US president’s private ranch in Crawford, Texas in mid-April.