Americans are avidly debating the their president Barack Obama's deep bow with slightly bent knee to Saudi King Abdullah at the royal reception in Buckingham Palace on April 2, violating the strict taboo on a US president bending before a foreign ruler. But no one is asking what American policy positions evoked the gesture on the Saudi side.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Gulf experts, the “bow” – denied by the White House notwithstanding photos and video evidence – failed to assuage the anger in the Saudi royal house or melt the king's cool reception of the US administration's policy of courting Iran.
Many of the princes, including the king's close intimates, accused him of not being firm enough or clear enough with Obama on his appeasement of Tehran and lenience on its nuclear weapon aspirations when they met on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in London in early April.
The depth of Saudi resentment over the London episode surfaced in a speech Prince Turki bin Faisal delivered to the Center for Strategic Studies at the Jordanian National University in Amman on April 4. Turki, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to London and Washington, is one of King Abdullah's closest confidants.
The subject of his speech, for which almost the entire military and political leadership of Jordan turned out, was “inter-Arab conciliation, and the future of the peace process.” And indeed the few crumbs published were confined to his comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the main thrust of his address, which DEBKA-Net-Weekly obtained from its Gulf sources, was unreported. It amounted to one of the bluntest condemnations of US Middle East policies, with reference to Iran, Syria and Afghanistan, ever heard from an Arab leader.
The Saudi J'accuse
Following are the nine major points of Prince Turki's address:
1. His most extreme grievance refers to Iraq, which he accuses the Obama administration of handing to Iran on a silver platter in betrayal of America's Iraqi Sunni allies. Washington is, for instance, discounting the crackdown carried out by Nouri Maliki's Shiite-dominated, Tehran-oriented Baghdad government against the Sunni Awakening Councils which fought shoulder to shoulder with the US army to crush the Sunni insurgency and evict al Qaeda. Responding to the changing winds in Washington, elements of the Awakening Councils have restored their old links with Baathist insurgents. A fresh round of deadly bombing attacks marks the resurgence of internecine violence in Iraq.
Turki fears Iraq is on a perilous course to bloody sectarian strife of the worst kind if pro-Iranian elements continue to enjoy free rein at Tehran's behest and under US auspices.
2, Saudi Arabia, rather than Iran, was best placed to stabilize neighboring Iraq internally. By favoring Tehran, Washington exposed the oil kingdom to the pro-Iranian and Shiite forces bent on de-Arabizing Iraq.
3. Turki called Iran “a paper tiger with teeth of steel”.
Iran's leadership and regime are worthless and weak, he explained. But they have powerful tools for promoting their goals of expansion through the Middle East at the expense of the Arabs. To our regret, said the prince, some of those tools were provided by Washington.
4. Turki grumbled that the profound strife and dissent dividing Arab nations laid them open to the Iranian “paper tiger's” infiltration through Iraq and Lebanon.
Obama's Pakistan policy would reduce it to warring statelets
5. His forecast for Afghanistan was somber. In his view, no Afghan leader, political, military, religious or tribal – whether pro-government or Taliban – can be trusted to honor a promise. Stability is therefore a remote prospect with little hope that the Obama administration's bid for dialogue with “moderate” Taliban quarters will get anywhere.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources recall Turki bin Faisal's rich Afghan record: As Saudi intelligence chief in the 1980s, he was point man for the US-backed effort to shape the Afghan mujahedeen and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda into effective forces for expelling the Soviet army of occupation. In the 1990s, he was the main cog in the covert communications link between Washington and al Qaeda.
6. The Saudi prince said Washington was committing serious blunders in continuing its drone-borne missile attacks on terrorist havens in Pakistan and planned expansion of special operations in Baluchistan. These steps, he warned, would bring Pakistani military to collapse, removing the only entity holding the country together as a unified country. Pakistan would end up splintered into warring statelets.
7. Turki had harsh words for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and denigrated the way in which the Obama administration was engaging him.
“In the time of his father, President Hafez al-Assad“, said Turki, “Syria never forgot its Arab pride even while maintaining close ties with Tehran. But Bashar only pretends to follow in his father's footsteps; he has debased Syria's national and Arab pride and bowed low to Iran's influence.”
8. Turki was downbeat about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his view the Arabs, and that included Saudi Arabia, cannot hope to sway American policy on this conflict – in the future as in the past – for lack of a unified Arab voice. Every government and each Palestinian faction pulls in its own direction.
9. The Saudi prince had a good word for no Arab leader excepting Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a man of courage and the only one willing to take on Iran. “Cairo has an historical role to play at this difficult juncture for the Middle East.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources note that the Saudi prince's praise for Mubarak was also a side-swipe at the Obama administration, which he faulted for bidding for the favors of Damascus and Tehran while neglecting America's old standbys and friends in Riyadh and Cairo.