Are the Saudis looking for a new partner in the Middle East?
posted at 7:21 pm on August 28, 2013 by Bruce McQuain
If a Lebanese newspaper article is to be believed, they may indeed be shopping around. Walter Russell Mead came upon this squib in As-Safir:
[Prince] Bandar [bin Sultan al-Saud] discussed the potential cooperation between the two countries if an understanding could be reached on a number of issues, especially Syria. He discussed at length the matter of oil and investment cooperation, saying, “Let us examine how to put together a unified Russian-Saudi strategy on the subject of oil. The aim is to agree on the price of oil and production quantities that keep the price stable in global oil markets. … We understand Russia’s great interest in the oil and gas present in the Mediterranean Sea from Israel to Cyprus through Lebanon and Syria. And we understand the importance of the Russian gas pipeline to Europe. We are not interested in competing with that. We can cooperate in this area as well as in the areas of establishing refineries and petrochemical industries. The kingdom can provide large multi-billion-dollar investments in various fields in the Russian market. What’s important is to conclude political understandings on a number of issues, particularly Syria and Iran….
The key to the relations between our two countries starts by understanding our approach to the Syrian issue. So you have to stop giving [the Syrian regime] political support, especially at the UN Security Council, as well as military and economic support. And we guarantee you that Russia’s interests in Syria and on the Mediterranean coast will not be affected one bit. In the future, Syria will be ruled by a moderate and democratic regime that will be directly sponsored by us and that will have an interest in understanding Russia’s interests and role in the region.”
Mead calls this “jaw dropping stuff” and assuming it all to be a faithful description of what went on, I can’t disagree. He also offers a reason for the meeting:
The Saudis have apparently judged President Obama to be rudderless in his Middle East policies, judging by their recent diplomatic moves toward Russia: They appear to have plied Putin with a deal to collude in the global oil market, while also urging him to distance himself from Syria’s Butcher Assad.
Ah, a smart diplomatic move. Engage the supporters of Syria and give them incentives not to support the regime. Why, it sounds like a well-considered attempt at foreign policy that any competent State Department might have tried.
What has the US administration done to bring Russia along?
The State Department on Monday postponed a meeting scheduled for Wednesday in The Hague between senior diplomats from the United States and Russia due to “ongoing consultations” over the chemical weapons attack in Syria.
The meeting was to have discussed plans for an international peace conference to end the civil war in Syria.
Right. I forgot. I guess its time to “reset” again.
Look, it is clear from these sorts of reports that the US is considered to be weak and undependable by many in the region. Right now, the move toward attacking Syria has to be considered more of an emotional and political response than one that will in any way help solve the situation there. While one may not be a huge fan of the Saudis, their overtures to Russia are certainly something that should signal the US that it has a pretty basic problem on their hands. It’s an indicator, and not an indicator that reflects very well on this country. Most importantly it points out how dismally poor our foreign policy is and has been in the region. It is so poor that an important ally openly courts Russia and fears absolutely no backlash from us. Additionally, they are engaged in the sort of diplomacy a world leader like the US should have been engaging in with Russia all along. Instead we have an indecisive President drawing and re-drawing red lines while his State Department cancels meetings with an important player in the region.