Upset at US President Barack Obama’s policies on Iran and Syria, members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are threatening a rift with the US that could take the alliance between Washington and Riyadh to its lowest point in years.
Saudi Intelligence Agency Director-General Prince Bandar bin Sultan is vowing that the kingdom will make a “major shift” in relations with Washington to protest perceived US inaction over Syria’s civil war, as well as recent US overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on Tuesday.
Prince Bandar told European diplomats that the US had failed to act effectively against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when the latter crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.
“The shift away from the US is a major one,” the source said. “Saudi [Arabia] doesn’t want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.”
It was not immediately clear whether the reported statements by Prince Bandar, who was the Saudi ambassador to Washington for 22 years, had the full backing of Saudi King Abdullah.
The growing breach between the US and Saudi Arabia was also on display in Washington, where another senior Saudi prince criticized Obama’s Middle East policies, accusing him of “dithering” on Syria and Israeli-Palestinian peace.
In unusually blunt public remarks, Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud called Obama’s policies in Syria “lamentable” and ridiculed a US-Russian deal to eliminate al-Assad’s chemical weapons. He suggested that it was a ruse to let Obama avoid military action in Syria.
“The current charade of international control over Bashar’s [al-Assad] chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious and designed not only to give Mr Obama an opportunity to back down [from military strikes], but also to help [al-]Assad to butcher his people,” said Prince Turki, a member of the Saudi royal family and former director of intelligence.
The US and Saudi Arabia have been allies since the kingdom was declared in 1932, giving Riyadh a powerful military protector and Washington secure oil supplies.
The Saudi criticism came days after the 40th anniversary of the October 1973 Arab oil embargo imposed to punish the West for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War.
That was one of the low points in US-Saudi ties, which were also badly shaken by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US since most of the hijackers of the planes used in the attacks were Saudi nationals.
Saudi Arabia gave a clear sign of its displeasure over Obama’s foreign policy last week when it rejected a coveted two-year term on the UN Security Council in a display of anger over the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria and act on other Middle East issues.
Prince Turki said that Saudi Arabia will not reverse that decision, which he said was a result of the council’s failure to stop al-Assad and implement its own decision on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In London, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he discussed Riyadh’s concerns when he met Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Paris on Monday.
Kerry said he told the Saudi minister that no deal with Iran was better than a bad deal.
“I have great confidence that the United States and Saudi Arabia will continue to be the close and important friends and allies that we have been,” Kerry told reporters.
US Department of State spokeswoman Marie Harf said Riyadh had not conveyed to the department its intention to reduce its cooperation with the US. She said the issue was also not raised in the meeting between Kerry and the Saudi minister.
US Representative Chris Van Hollen told Reuters’ Washington Summit on Tuesday that the Saudi moves were intended to pressure Obama to take action in Syria.
“We know their game. They’re trying to send a signal that we should all get involved militarily in Syria and I think that would be a big mistake to get in the middle of the Syrian civil war,” Van Hollen said.
“And the Saudis should start by stopping their funding of the al Qaeda-related groups in Syria. In addition to the fact that it’s a country that doesn’t allow women to drive,” he added.