A month before the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz wrote a private note to US President George W. Bush saying: “A time comes when peoples and nations part. It is time for the United States and Saudi Arabia to look to their separate interests.”
The Bush administration preferred not to publicize the de facto Saudi ruler’s polite but effective termination of the special relationship of many decades between Washington and Riyadh. However, the suicide attacks a month later blew the concealing veil away from the widening rift between the two countries.
Fifteen of the 19 suicide-hijackers on the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon turned out to be Saudi nationals. As America’s global war against terrorism unfolded, it exposed the volume of financial support that Saudi religious and tribal institutions – the groundwork of Abdullah’s power base – granted Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization. The bulk of those funds in the past six months has been earmarked for the rescue of al Qaeda fugitives fleeing Afghan battlefields and their relocation to Pakistan, Iran, the Gulf states and the Middle East. As DEBKA-Net-Weekly has consistently reported, wads of Saudi petro-dollars aided the resettlement of al-Qaeda fighters in their new bases. Bush administration spokesmen are still grinding their teeth and holding their silence on this Saudi action.
To aggravate the friction, during the months of December to March, the Saudis began cozying up to two parties of the Bush “axis of evil” – Iran and Iraq.
This was taken as a hostile move to undermine Washington’s efforts to line up a Middle East coalition behind its war on terror.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources report that US vice president Dick Cheney, on a visit to Riyadh in the first week of March during a 10-nation tour, pulled no punches with the Saudi ruler. “You, the Saudis,” he rebuked Abdullah, “are jeopardizing the survival of the Saudi royal family and the security of the kingdom’s oil fields. If you carry on with this policy, you will lose those fields and be left without oil.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources add that Abdullah tried to persuade the vice president to be more specific on this threat to the kingdom’s petroleum cash crop. Cheney simply repeated that the Saudi princes had opted for a course that the US government believed would strike at the foundations of the throne and the future of the oil fields.
The loud publicity given Abdullah’s Middle East initiative had the effect for a while of muffling the US-Saudi dispute. The half-baked initiative was foredoomed to die a natural death but, before doing so, it had an unforeseen consequence.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, Abdullah was sorely discomfited to find himself standing alone before last month’s Arab League summit, with not a single Arab ruler, present or absent – not even the Palestinians, ready to seriously adopt his initiative. In the most public way possible, a Saudi ruler found himself trapped in the humiliating position studiously avoided by his forbears for half a century: he was alone in the dangerously intractable Palestinian-Israeli arena.
Weighed down by his isolation, the virtual Saudi ruler hurried over to Rabat, hoping to persuade the youngest Arab monarch, Mohammed VI to endorse his Middle East peace plan and so strengthen his hand before he confronted President Bush.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Rabat report that US secretary of State Colin Powell added his voice to Abdullah’s request when he visited the Moroccan capital in early April. The US secretary asked Mohammed to stand behind the Saudi ruler and so firm up his Middle East peace plan. If it could be made to lift off, American, European and Middle East opinion would think that the Saudi ruling house and the Bush administration were working hand in hand on an Arab-Israel peace plan. This presentation would minimize the damaging effect of the Saudi-US rift.
But the Moroccan monarch, savvy beyond his years, refused to be drawn into the maneuver. He told his close aides that he wanted no part of the intolerably chaotic Middle East conflict.
For this reason, DEBKA-Net-weekly‘s sources report, Mohammed also turned down an earlier American proposal to relieve the Israeli siege of Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters by offering him and his top lieutenants asylum in Morocco.
Unable to talk the young king round himself, Abdullah asked Powell to get him invited to the White House, so that the president would try his hand in person. Earlier this week, the king was accordingly received in Washington. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the US capital, he firmly declined to commit Morocco to any greater involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, leaving the crown prince’s Middle East initiative to continue to languish.
Abdullah’s talks with the US president at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, were therefore colored by the acrimony of two leaders at the parting of the ways, as spelled out in Abdullah’s earlier letter to Bush, on almost every substantive issue.
In particular, the Saudis are not only violently opposed to the US war on terror, but will do their utmost to hamper an American operation to unseat Saddam Hussein. Abdullah’s tone in demanding that Bush desist from such an attack grew sharper from the time he made his views known to vice president Cheney last month.
On oil, the Saudis are aware that American needs Saudi oil less than Riyadh needs its oil revenues. Ever practical, the Saudi ruler promised not to join an Arab embargo and to make up any shortfalls that threatened world price stability.
In return for this favor, Abdullah will have made tough demands of the US president on the Middle East – specifically to lean hard on Israel and make Sharon back away from his pressure on the Palestinians. This will be the Saudi prince’s compensation for his unpleasant Beirut experience as lone deliverer of a Middle East peace message.
The US president may meet him halfway. After all, the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a handy fig leaf for covering up the rising discord between Washington and Riyadh. The communique will therefore have very little relevance to the real agenda of the Crawford summit.