Two Gulf Princes Irked over Trump’s Engagement with Tehran

“The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is ready to deploy more troops across the Middle East as it cannot rely on Western allies, including the UK and the US to police the region,” said the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, in London on Thursday, July 26, “The Emirates are concerned about the divergency between Western powers over future relations with Iran. We are ready to take up more of the burden of security in our own neighborhood.”

When he made this cool assessment, the UAE minister refrained from fully voicing the feeling of betrayal sensed in Abud Dhabi and Riyadh when President Donald Trump set his face towards dialogue with Tehran for renegotiating the nuclear deal which he rejected in May.

The Emirati minister went on to say: “We hope that US pressure on Iran will bring it back to the negotiating table for an agreement wider than the JCPOA (the 2015 nuclear deal), one that addresses Iran’s ballistic missiles and regional meddling. However, in the current international system, it is no longer ‘write a cheque’ and someone is going to come and secure stability in the region. You have to do some of the burden-sharing.” These comments amounted to rejection of a plan Trump administration sources are touting. In an apparent bid to pacify America’s Gulf allies and allay their mistrust, Washington proposes establishing a new security and political alliance with the six Gulf Arab nations, Egypt and Jordan, in part to counter Iranian expansion. The White House is said to be seeking deeper cooperation between those countries on missile defense, military training, counter-terrorism and other issues, including strengthening regional economic and diplomatic ties. The US administration sources spoke of creating an “Arab NATO,” for discussion at a summit provisionally scheduled for Oct. 12-13 in Washington.

DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that this plan, as indicated by the UAE official in London, has left the Gulf rulers cold. They no longer trust the Trump administration for protection against their archfoe Iran and realize they are being left to fend for themselves. Neither Riyadh nor Abu Dhabi see how US talk of an Arab NATO against Iran is compatible with its engaging Tehran in diplomacy. Their disenchantment also encompasses Washington’s conduct of affairs in the Yemen war, the Red Sea and Syria. The Saudis and UAE, who lead a coalition against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebellion in Yemen, suspect the Americans of tailoring the intelligence, which is part of their contribution to the war, so as to deprive the coalition of success and leave its leaders no option but to sit down for talks with the Houthi enemies.

The anger of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MbS)and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Ziyad Mbz) is also directed against the Trump administration’s choice of Oman as its go-between with Tehran. The two princes, dominant figurs in the region, regard Sultan Qaboos as hostile to their interests. They bitterly resent his alignment with Iranian positions and sympathy with another adversary, Qatar.

The two princes fear that any US understandings reached with Iran through the sultan’s good offices will favor their rivals and cut them out of the picture. As for US Syrian policy, they are concerned that Trump will not be averse to letting it fall into the laps of Russia and Iran, so long as he accomplish his goal of bringing the US troops serving there home. Tehran will then be left in possession of its coveted land bridge from the Gulf via Iraq up to the Mediterranean coast.

The Saudis struck at the perceived Trump administration’s Achilles heel, with a statement released on Monday, July 30: “Riyadh has reassured Arab allies that it will not endorse any Middle East peace plan (between Israel and the Palestinians) that fails to address Jerusalem’s status or the refugees’ right of return, easing their concerns that the kingdom might back a nascent US deal which aligns with Israel on key issues.”

That was a Saudi tit for tat: If the Trump administration is backing away from its pledges to Riyadh, the Saudi government does not see why it should go along with Trump’s Middle East peace plan.

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