This was news a month and a half ago. Tonight it’s just confirmation.

Saudi leaders are privately “deeply skeptical” that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could implement the U.S. plan, the senior U.S. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, who is traveling with Rice…

The Saudis’ primary concern is the Sunni population of Anbar province, the senior U.S. official. The official said the Saudis had informed Washington that they were considering a plan to send troops into the province if Bush’s plan failed…

While the focus of Rice’s tour is to drum up support for the U.S. initiative in Iraq, she was also seeking to put out a diplomatic brush fire over Iran after a top Iranian diplomat visited Riyadh to meet with King Abdullah to complain about the U.S. military build-up.

That “top Iranian diplomat” was the mullahs’ national security chief (and head nuclear negotiator), Ali Larijani, who came bearing a note from Ahmadinejad. With the Saudis keeping Iran’s oil profits low, “Mahdi” taking heat at home for his bellicosity, and the U.S. now focusing on Iranian operatives inside Iraq, Tehran’s suddenly in a bit of a spot. StrategyPage:

The Iranians have their allies in the Iraqi government, and sense that the U.S. is going to attempt a housecleaning. Resisting this won’t be easy, because most Iraqis back the idea of less Iranian influence on Iraqi politics. The consulate raid, and other captures and intelligence missions, have revealed many details of Iranian operations in Iraq. It’s now the Iranians, and their Iraqi allies, who are on the defensive. The Americans are apparently serious about disarming the Shia militias. That would still give pro-Iranian many police and army units (heavily infiltrated by pro-Iranian Iraqis) to play with, but the Americans are going after those as well.

SP also notes that Sunni jihadi attacks are dwindling (although they might have spoken too soon). Could the Saudis be starving them to keep their side at bay and give the U.S. a freer hand to go after the Shiites?