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King Salman Comes to Washington

Philip Gordon





Syria. The U.S.-Saudi gap on Syria remains wide, but recent developments there and in the region may provide an opportunity to start to close it. Washington and Riyadh have long agreed on the desirability of getting Asad to leave, but the Saudis have been disappointed with Obama’s unwillingness to take the measures necessary—military strikes and more lethal support to opposition groups—to achieve that objective. With Obama still determined not to get dragged into another Middle Eastern war or to see Sunni extremists take over Damascus, and Salman equally determined to strike a strategic blow against Iran by getting rid of Assad, this difference is unlikely to be resolved this week. What the leaders can do, however, is discuss whether a diplomatic agreement is possible that stops the war and preserves both Saudi and Iranian core interests. The Saudis have already agreed to conduct such talks with the United States and Russia, but even if the Russians could be brought along (a big “if”) it is hard to see any agreement that could be reached without Iran at the table. And while in the current environment it may seem fanciful to imagine the Saudis negotiating with the Iranians, it is hardly unprecedented, and U.S. strategic assurances, along with a bilateral agreement on potential outcomes for talks, might be enough to persuade them a negotiated outcome is worth exploring. The alternative—admittedly more likely—is a continuation and expansion of the current war, which is fueling the sort of extremism and sectarianism that poses a growing threat to Saudi Arabia itself—as ISIL bombings in the Kingdom have recently and tragically demonstrated.

Egypt. Few issues have divided the United States from Saudi Arabia as much as Egypt. The U.S. unwillingness to stand by President Hosni Mubarak once it became clear he had lost the country’s support left Saudi leaders wondering about their own fate if ever they faced a similar circumstance. The Saudis have also been dismayed by Obama’s unwillingness to provide unequivocal support for General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s military intervention that overthrew the government of the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.


The article’s full-text is available on the website of Politico

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