News Column

Saudi Arabia Turns Away From West

October 23, 2013

Francis Matthew, Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)

Saudi Arabia has just refused the seat it won on the United Nations' Security Council, and several senior Saudi spokesmen have used the event to articulate the kingdom's fury and despair at the failure of both the United Nations and the US to act effectively in the Middle East.

The challenge is that the Saudi action has deprived the Security Council of an Arab voice in the inner councils of the world body, which can be a dangerous situation unless there is a substantial alternative channel which can articulate the well-founded and long-held Saudi, Gulf and Arab concerns.

This alternative is not yet clear while the United Nations remains the sole forum where the entire world community can meet and debate the serious problems that it faces. Continued Saudi membership of the G20, or the Friends of Syria, and many other multilateral bodies all add up to a useful international presence, but the United Nations should be included as well, for all its obvious and gross faults.

There is no doubt that the Security Council has failed to act over Palestine for decades, to the enduring despair of the entire Arab world. The Arab sense of being persistently ignored vastly increased when President Barack Obama refused to implement his own red lines after the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people, and the US refused to implement the promised military strikes.

This week's Saudi boycott of the Security Council seat has taken the dispute to a new level, but Saudi anger with inaction at the United Nations has been increasing, and was flagged up when Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al Faisal, refused to address the General Assembly because of Saudi Arabia's dismay at the lack of global action in Syria, and the continued disinterest in Palestine.

This week, the blunt Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar Bin Sultan Al Saud focused on Washington when he summed up the issues that were driving Saudi Arabia to make a "major shift" in its dealings with the US: American failure to act effectively on the Syrian crisis, the continuing Israeli Palestinian conflict, America's rapprochement with Tehran, and the American failure to back Saudi support for the government of Bahrain when it quelled a revolt in 2011.

Serious strains

Prince Bandar's fury was triggered in particular by the failure of the US to give the Saudis Syrian military targets when Saudi Arabia asked for them, which was accompanied by an American statement that it could not protect the Saudi oil fields in the case of a war involving Syria.

There is no doubt that the long-established alliance between the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE is under strain, as the US pursues its own interests to the disregard of the Arab and Gulf perspectives.

But the question is what the Arabs should do about this. One line of Saudi thought is that a more independent Arab group needs to be formed to take up these issues, recognising the complete disfunctionality of the Arab League.

Nawaf Obaid at Harvard has described the concept of a new collective and more assertive Arab security framework consisting of Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and the GCC states under Saudi leadership. However this vision has been criticised as far-fetched and wishful thinking by others, who point out that any such group would still be dependent on western support.

Commenting on the Saudi action at the United Nations, the long standing Arab League ambassador to the United Nations, Clovis Maksoud, wrote this week in Al Monitor that he had always sought a continuous Arab presence among the non-permanent members of the Security Council.

The Arab assessment then (and he argued the same for today) was that Arab membership on the Security Council, albeit on a non-permanent status, is essential to defend Arab interests and causes, especially Palestinian rights and other issues of major concern for the Arab League and the Arab world.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is aware of his government's problems with the Saudis. On Tuesday both he and Saud Al Faisal were at the Friends of Syria meeting in London and Kerry bluntly spelled out that "We know that the Saudis were obviously disappointed that the strike [on Syrian government chemical weapons sites] didn't take place and have questions about some of the other things that may be happening in the region" in a reference to Saudi worries over the improving nature of the talks with Iran on its nuclear programme.

Kerry insisted that from the American perspective they were keen to work with Saudi Arabia and that genuine cooperation is still continuing, even over Syria despite the Saudi anger over the failure to intervene. Kerry reported that Saud Al Faisal told him on Monday that Saudi Arabia is working and cooperating with the US.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia was an important part of the Friends of Syria meeting, had signed the communique and was part of its formulation. Kerry summed up by saying that Saudi Arabia and the US agree on a great deal here going forward.

It is unlikely that Prince Bandar Bin Sultan would agree with this friendly summary of events, and the US will need to do a lot more to rebalance the relationship. Saudi Arabia has started looking for more attention in two separate arenas, with the United Nations and also with the US. They will probably get two different answers.

(c) 2013 Al Nisr Publishing LLC. All rights reserved. Provided by an company

Original headline: Arab voice should be heard worldwide

For more stories covering politics, please see HispanicBusiness' Politics Channel

Source: (c) 2013 Al Nisr Publishing LLC. All rights reserved.

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters