The Saudi initiative for a non-aggression pact with Tehran, revealed exclusively by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 553 on Aug. 17 (The Saudis Tell Their Guest Ahmadinejad: Attack Us at Your Peril) has taken a step forward.
It started out as an invitation by Saudi King Abdullah to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Mecca on Aug. 13. It was then presented by Defense Minister Crown Prince Salman to the Iranian president as a Saudi proposition-cum-threat when they met secretly on the summit’s sidelines
Riyadh was after a non-aggression pact to safeguard Saudi oilfields and installations against Iranian retaliation for a potential US/Israel attack on Iran’s nuclear program. But if they were attacked, the Saudis threatened to even the score by wiping out Iran’s oil facilities on its Persian Gulf coast.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and military sources add: Although this wasn’t spelled out, Iran was given to understand that if subjected to aggression, Saudi Arabia would not face Iran alone: Its air force would be bolstered by the air might of the United Arab Emirates. They would no doubt seize the opportunity to send air, sea and marine forces to capture and re-establish their sovereignty on the three disputed Gulf islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and drive out the Iranian military presence.
Khamenei is in a hurry for a deal with Saudi Arabia
In his conversation with Ahmadinejad, the Saudi defense minister raised the issues of Syria and Bahrain – where Saudi Arabia and Iran back opposite sides – and Shiite disturbances in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province on the Persian Gulf.
Those disturbances are gaining in violence.
Just last Friday, August 17, small groups of Shiite demonstrators observed Tehran’s call to join its annual Al Quds Day protest against Israel, calculating that the Saudi authorities would not dare take action against demonstrators marching under the Liberate Jerusalem banner – even if it was sponsored by Iran.
Some not only chanted slogans against the Jewish State and America, but for the first time hoisted large photos of the late founder of Islamic Revolutionary Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Then on Monday, Aug. 13, masked gunmen shot and wounded a Saudi border guard in a Shiite district after another round of clashes between police and protesters.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei surprised Riyadh with an uncharacteristically swift reply to the non-aggression pact proposal. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian and Gulf sources disclose he was not just willing but eager to open negotiations.
Riyadh and Washington – which has been monitoring the unfolding Saudi-Iranian exchanges closely – have both concluded that Iran’s rulers are feeling squeezed enough to seize on the Saudi offer as a life-line.
Tehran wants to snare Prince Salman for the Non-Aligned Summit
Tehran has encountered a string of setbacks: Diplomacy with the six powers for a compromise on its nuclear program has run aground; the war situation in Syria is going from bad to worse; the Obama administration is now open to a “Syria first, before Iran” option, entailing US military intervention against Iran’s foremost ally (see our opening item); an Israeli attack on Iran looms large and Tehran’s relations with Moscow are cooling.
Iran’s rulers believe they can hitch a ride on a non-aggression pact with Saudi Arabia back to the diplomatic center stage armed with a new lever and fresh leeway for maneuver.
It took Khamenei just five days to answer Crown Prince Salman with a proposal that the two leaders set up teams to embark on intensive negotiations on the bilateral pact and related issues before the end of August.
This tight timeline was intended to kill two birds with one stone.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and Iranian sources report: Khamenei would dearly love to see Prince Salman leading a Saudi delegation at the summit of the 118-member Non-Aligned Nations Organization taking place in Tehran from Aug. 26 to Sept. 1. His presence would boost the prestige of the Islamic regime’s capital as an important arena for international events.
In his message to the Saudi Crown Prince, the Iranian leader proposed meeting him Tehran on Aug. 20 and promised to welcome him with the same honors as King Abdullah accorded the Iranian president in Mecca.
Prince Salman’s refusal to visit Tehran would derail negotiations
Khamenei let it be understood through back channels to Riyadh that his meeting with Prince Salman would essentially mark the formal opening of bilateral negotiations. He left it to the Saudi Crown Prince to decide whether those negotiations would be held in secret or not.
But the Iranian leader is playing for the highest stakes. He let if be known that a snub by the Saudi prince of his invitation to Tehran would derail the preliminary talks already underway between the two governments and showing first signs of progress.
According to our intelligence and Gulf sources, the Saudi and Iranian teams have taken three important procedural points forward:
1. The first objective of the dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran would be to mend their diplomatic and military fences.
2. Their negotiations on Syria would be purely bilateral. In other words, Tehran would deal with Riyadh behind the back of President Assad and the Saudis would negotiate without referring to the Syrian Free Army or any other rebel group backed by Riyadh.
3. Iran and Saudi Arabia agree to discuss smoothing out the unrest stirring among the religious minorities of Gulf nations, including the pro-Iranian Shiites of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.