Saudi Arabia at Crossroads

Evidence suggests that as of recent Riyadh is intent on improving ties with Tehran and has been negotiating to this effect in secret. Citing officials in Saudi Arabia, The Wall Street Journal (an informative American newspaper) has reported that the kingdom is engaged in behind-the-scenes talks with Iran with the view of protecting its energy resources, petroleum industry, and transportation and oil pipe lines. It wrote that Riyadh was negotiating with Tehran in order to prevent incidents similar to those on 14 September, when a large-scale attack on ARAMCO (the Saudi Arabian Oil Company) had been staged.

It is worth noting that King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud urged Arab nations to unite and take a stand against Iran at a session of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. In the meantime, earlier on, President of Iran Hassan Rouhani had proposed an initiative to ensure peace, stability and security in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, and had also sent a message regarding this issue to the King of Saudi Arabia.

It seems that numerous events that have happened in the Persian Gulf and its surrounding areas must have had a dramatic effect on Riyadh’s previously firm stance against Iran, and most importantly, changed the viewpoint of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, who, at present, is the most influential figure in the sphere of both domestic and foreign politics of once a rich and powerful kingdom. By now the Crown Prince has come to the full realization that Saudi Arabia needs to create and take on a new role for itself in order to protect the kingdom’s economic and political interests and make a leap forward.

We can assume that the change in Riyadh’s stance, undoubtedly, stemming from a sudden loss of respect for and rapid erosion of political support for the kingdom within the United States, began after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey. According to data provided by Amnesty International, several hundred opponents of the current regime are executed every year. But there has never been a strong reaction from the United States in response to this. However, this time around, the assassination of the Saudi reporter triggered a wave of outrage among journalists, many politicians and the American public. In view of these developments, the issue of Saudi involvement in the tragic events of 9\11 was even raised.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Crown Prince was absolutely sure of Washington’s loyalty. After all, the kingdom purchased $100 billion worth of U.S. weapons, which it had no use for, after Donald Trump’s visit. In other words, the Saudis simply gave this money, personally, to the newly-elected President as a gift in order to strengthen his leadership position. And they subsequently, supported Donald Trump in every possible way.

But as an ancient proverb says everything changes. Times changed and the U.S. President embarked on a new policy course that did not reserve a special place for Saudi Arabia, as before, instead the kingdom ended up on equal footing with many other nations. Riyadh now faced an important question “How could it follow an independent foreign policy course and take on its own unique role without the support of its trans-Atlantic ally?”. As it turns out, the answer to this question is “It is far from simple to do so in this rapidly changing environment”. Riyadh’s former allies do not support the kingdom as ardently as before when they received monetary aid from the kingdom, whose financial resources are rapidly dwindling. Saudi Arabia has even resorted to selling its national assets, i.e. a stake of Saudi Aramco.

Confusion and vacillation are on display even among countries of the Arabian Peninsula that once deemed Riyadh’s authority as unquestionable. This is clearly visible via their policies towards Iran. Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the United Nations, Ambassador Mansour Ayyad Al-Otaibi, has clearly and firmly stated on behalf of his nation that Iran is a neighbor and a Muslim nation, and that no one in the emirate supports the sanctions against it. During an interview with the Al Jazeera TV channel, he expressed hope that differences among the nations of the region would be resolved, and talked about positive signs pointing to possible future dialogue involving Tehran, Saudi Arabia and Washington.

Qatar, which actively supports Iran in its dispute with the kingdom, also has a good relationship with Tehran. And when it comes to the overall situation in the region, Doha is clearly not on Riyadh’s side. In addition, we must not forget about the enormous gas field in the Persian Gulf Qatar and Iran are jointly developing together, which happens to be the main source of wealth for the small emirate, having made it the richest nation in the world based on GDP per capita. This is why Qatar will not take any unnecessary risks and continue to maintain if not friendly then at least smooth relations with the country of Ayatollahs.

Yemen, thrust into a civil war with the aid of the Saudis, has suffered many casualties as a result of barbaric air strikes led by Saudi Arabia. It, therefore, has no desire to maintain a friendly relationship with the kingdom. Moreover, due to Saudi’s poorly thought-through policies, Yemeni people, or at least the Houthis, are supported by Tehran, which has continuously provided them with humanitarian aid. Simply compare Riyadh’s missiles and bombs as a result of which Yemeni cities, towns and villages have been destroyed, and food supplied by Tehran that has helped tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians. There is no need to even ask the question “Whose side are the people of Yemen on?”.

The fact that the Sultanate of Oman is located at the end of the Arabian Peninsula has always meant the nation has had its own unique position throughout history. It has never played the role of a “loyal servant” to Saudi kings. Moreover, the current Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al Said, has always maintained smooth neighborly relations with Iran. In fact, the secret negotiations between the United States (during Barack Obama’s presidential term) and Tehran that eventually resulted in the so-called nuclear deal were held in Oman. And nowadays, Arab media outlets have reported that intermediaries in Oman are facilitating communication between representatives of Iran and Saudi Arabia. In other words, the Sultanate of Oman is a kind of bridge of mediation for Iran, the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Even the leaders of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who up until recently had treated the Crown Prince as their best friend, are currently trying to distance themselves from the kingdom and its haphazard policies. This change of heart concerns, first and foremost, Yemen from where the UAE has been withdrawing its forces, and Iran with who the nation is attempting to establish working relations. The Emirati Sheikhs face a fairly tough question “How can they quell yet another conflict that is flaring up near the UAE border?”.

A routine analysis of ongoing events shows that the Crown Prince was deeply troubled by the sudden decision of the U.S. military leadership to unceremoniously withdraw forces from Syria thus leaving its loyal allies there to their own fate (i.e. the Kurds who once again have ended up in a tough situation). The focus of U.S. troops has completely shifted to oil fields, which American engineers are unscrupulously robbing of their wealth, thus leaving Damascus and Syrian Kurds without many essential means for survival. In addition, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud seems to have clearly realized that Iran had nothing to do with the incidents in September when Saudi companies had been bombed. An important factor casting doubt on Tehran’s involvement was a statement by the United Nations saying no evidence was found to corroborate that Iran had been responsible for the attack on Riyadh’s oil facilities.

Considering the fairly difficult situation that Saudi Arabia finds itself in nowadays, the best way out of it is to find new reliable partners who will be able to help Riyadh not on battle fields but at negotiating tables, where a peaceful resolution to the predicament, which the kingdom and other nations of the Persian Gulf find themselves in as a result of aggressive and mercenary policies of the United States and its Western allies, could be found.

As a consequence, the official visit by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin to Saudi Arabia was a spectacular success and so were his meetings with the Saudi leadership. The main topics of discussion included coordinated actions on stabilizing oil prices, collaboration in the energy sector, military and technical cooperation, and the state of affairs in Syria and the region of the Persian Gulf. The negotiations resulted in the signing of 21 documents. They included OPEC+ agreement to manage the oil market. The ministries of energy of both nations also signed a memorandum on cooperation. In addition, Saudi Arabia’s and Russia’s governments concluded a memorandum on facilitating the visa issuing procedure for the citizens of two countries. Furthermore, an intergovernmental memorandum on the enhancement of trade relations between the two nations was signed. President Vladimir Putin highlighted that he viewed Saudi Arabia as one of Russia’s leading economic partners, and that the Russian-Saudi Economic Council was a great platform for direct dialogue between business circles of both nations.

Judging by the successful outcomes of Vladimir Putin’s official visit to Saudi Arabia, it appears that the kingdom is still making its first steps towards establishing mutually beneficial ties with the Russian Federation, which should improve the entire politico-economic situation and military landscape in the fairly complex region of the Persian Gulf.

By Viktor Mikhin
Source: New Eastern Outlook

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