Riyadh Accuses US of Derailing Trilateral Sunni Bloc Initiative
Diplomatic efforts to set up a bloc of Sunni countries consisting of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt seem to have reached a dead end, at least for now. Early this week, the secret talks between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who were brought together by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, fell apart.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that behind the closed doors, the Turkish and Egyptian rulers were locked in an irreconcilable clash: Erdogan turned down El-Sisi’s ultimatum for continuing the negotiations – that Turkey deport all the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders granted asylum there after the 2013 military coup in Cairo.
El-Sisi shot back. “I don’t extend my hand to terrorists.”
Egypt accused Turkey and the Palestinian Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip of providing Muslim Brotherhood terror networks with bases of operation.
The Egyptian leader told his close aides that Cairo would not renew ties with Ankara so long as Erdogan declines to crack down on terrorist organizations, although the Turkish president did agree last year to expel senior Hamas leaders from Istanbul for the sake of mending his fences with Israel.
For their part, the Saudis accuse the Obama administration of deliberately frustrating their trilateral initiative so as to prevent the rise of a Sunni Muslim alliance capable of standing up to the Iranian-led Shiite bloc of Iraq, Syria and Hizballah in the Middle East. Riyadh’s top diplomat al-Jubeir maintained that Washington could have brought Ankara round by signaling its support for the initiative. But when the Saudis made this request, the Obama administration did not bother to direct the US ambassador in Ankara to take it up with the Turks, on the pretext that the US was short of effective levers for applying to Edrogan.
Al-Jubeir told his aides he was not surprised by Washington’s reluctance to help Egypt and Turkey, the two biggest Sunni powers in the Middle East, bury the hatchet, in view of the US record of hindering every step on the regional agenda for containing Tehran.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources predict that the collapse of the trilateral exchanges will have a detrimental effect on the ongoing Turkish-Israeli effort to restore diplomatic relations. Erdogan can hardly parade the resumption of diplomatic, economic and military ties with the Jewish state, while refusing to make the grade for reconciliation with Egypt, the biggest Arab country in the Middle East.
At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu will prefer to keep relations with Turkey as low-profile as possible to avoid upsetting his warm ties with Egypt’s El-Sisi.