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Edition 16 Volume 5 - April 26, 2007

Saudi Arabia's resurgent diplomacy
Saudi Arabia emerges out of the US shadow  - N. Janardhan

Saudi Arabia has sought to restrict Washington's influence to give itself the political space to put forth its own agenda.

Driven by a sense of urgency  - Toby Jones

Riyadh's main fear is the specter of Iranian hegemony.

A new regional leadership  - Thomas W. Lippman

As Abdullah has recognized, Bush and Cheney live in an imaginary Middle East where people behave better if sent to bed without supper.

The Iran file  - Afshin Molavi

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been at pains to lower the rhetoric and avoid an escalation.

Freezing the crisis in Lebanon  - Michel Nehme

The new Saudi approach reflects the kingdom's fear of rising Persian Shi'ite might that could undermine Sunni Arab supremacy.


Saudi Arabia emerges out of the US shadow
 N. Janardhan

It is a resource-rich, religious powerhouse, a slowly but surely modernizing country that has failed to showcase its strengths in the past. But the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is attempting to reverse this by making the best of an opportune moment in history under the stewardship of an ambitious king who doesn't have the luxury of time on his side.

Saudi Arabia's current proactive diplomacy in the Middle East can be traced back to the developments that followed immediately after 9/11. The US slur against Islam and the kingdom caused an evident rift between Washington and Riyadh. This coincided with Riyadh's determination to root out the threat of al-Qaeda and its ideology from its domestic milieu. Together, the two factors contributed to the US withdrawing its troops from the Prince Sultan Airbase in Saudi Arabia and moving them to the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

This development in 2003 was in some ways the beginning of a serious challenge to Saudi hegemony in the region. The United States tried to offset the strain with Saudi Arabia by developing closer ties with the remaining countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) bloc. These countries also began to act in a manner that appeared to undermine the kingdom.

For example, differences between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain began to emerge over the latter's unilateral signing of a free trade agreement with the United States. This caused King Abdullah, then crown prince, to boycott the December 2004 GCC Summit in Manama. Meanwhile, there is an ongoing rift with Qatar over Al-Jazeera's coverage of political events in the region. The two countries held opposing views after Hizballah captured two Israeli soldiers in 2006. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia reportedly objected to a Qatar-UAE gas project in 2006, while there are reported Saudi-UAE differences over borders. Finally, Saudi-Kuwaiti relations are under strain over "deliberate" attempts to hinder Saudi goods from reaching the Iraqi market after the US-led invasion.

All these differences obviously had an impact on Saudi Arabia's status in the region at large. Further, the country's declining influence and worsening image abroad also had an impact on the political standing of the regime within the country, which required attention. The process of reasserting itself as the most influential player in the GCC bloc and one of the most powerful players in the Arab world began with King Abdullah taking charge in 2005.

Since then Saudi Arabia has been more forthcoming and forceful in its views on Gulf and Middle East crises than before. Riyadh realized that the fault lines in the region--Palestinian, Iraqi, Iranian and Lebanese--carry with them the potential to destabilize the kingdom and the entire Arab world. Apart from building a buffer against domestic ramifications, intervention in the region's predicaments has brought Saudi Arabia back into the center of world politics, especially with Egypt nowhere on the Middle East's diplomatic radar.

The US failure in Iraq is also a factor that encouraged Saudi Arabia to shift into top diplomatic gear. In the context of reining in Iran, Riyadh realized there could be no such thing as a short surgical war against the country with minimal regional and international ramifications. Thus Riyadh decided to engage Tehran to stem the problems in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, an engagement that could ultimately serve as a confidence-building measure to overcome core problems with Iran.

The effort to revive the 2002 peace plan is a reflection of Saudi Arabia's desire to address what is widely believed as the main source of all the problems in the Middle East. Though the current situation in the region may not be directly linked to the longstanding Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the latter still is a key factor contributing to the instability in the region.

All these developments, furthermore, have coincided with the rise of Asia as an economic powerhouse needing energy resources from the Gulf to maintain growth. The Gulf countries were flush with liquidity following high oil prices and found Asia to be the ideal place to invest in the wake of western suspicion against Arabs. In such a milieu, Saudi Arabia saw the futility of keeping all its eggs in the US basket and having to toe Washington's line on international issues. Instead Riyadh began to cultivate separate alliances to cater to its security and economic needs.

In developing closer ties with Asia, Washington-Riyadh ties became no longer exclusive. In fact, Saudi Arabia has sought to restrict Washington's influence to give itself the political space to put forth its own agenda, which has a pro-Arab context written all over it. In all, this has proven to be a golden opportunity for the kingdom to regain some of its lost credibility by emerging out of Washington's shadow after critics had begun dubbing it America's stooge.- Published 26/4/2007 bitterlemons-international.org


N. Janardhan is a Gulf-based political analyst.


Driven by a sense of urgency
 Toby Jones

Saudi Arabia has undergone a remarkable political rebirth in the past few months, emerging as the Middle East's most assertive Arab power. Until recently, various internal and international pressures constrained the kingdom's ability to pursue its interests effectively. Deadly al-Qaeda-inspired violence, an emboldened domestic reform lobby and the ratcheting up of post-9/11 anti-Saudi hysteria in the United States forced Riyadh to direct its political energies inward. Even though many of these pressures remain, the kingdom feels increasingly confident (warranted or not) in its ability to manage, co-opt or deflect them.

It remains to be seen if Saudi assertiveness is tantamount to effectiveness. Many questions remain. It is unclear if the kingdom is actually containing the main forces, most notably sectarianism, threatening to destabilize the Middle East or unleashing them.

Saudi Arabia's current muscular diplomacy, immersing itself in crises from Lebanon to Palestine to Iran, is driven by a sense of urgency. Iraq's descent into bloody civil war and the potential for a jihadi spillover effect from Iraq into Saudi Arabia have led to heightened security measures. But Riyadh's main fear is the specter of Iranian hegemony and the political empowerment of long-oppressed Shi'ite communities across the region.

As Gregory Gause has recently noted, Saudi Arabia's immediate objective is to ensure that the balance of power in the region does not tip too far in Iran's direction. This is no small task. Iran appears to have emerged, so far at least, as the main victor from the US-led war to topple Saddam Hussein. In addition, in spite of international opprobrium, Iran has also successfully thwarted efforts to halt its alleged development of nuclear weapons, portending a potentially monumental shift in not only its military capacity, but in its ability to project its political will throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.

Even absent the bomb, Iran's power is being felt beyond Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Tehran scored an important victory last summer when Iranian-supported Hizballah effectively resisted Israel's military push into southern Lebanon. The kingdom's most recent diplomatic efforts should be seen as an attempt not only to reassert itself as a major player across the region, but also as an attempt to carve out anew spheres of influence for itself at the expense of Iran.

It is unlikely that Saudi Arabia views the contest between itself and Iran today as solely driven by sectarian difference. But Riyadh also understands the power that sectarian anxieties possess and that it can leverage anti-Shi'ism in its favor with Sunnis across the Middle East if need be. While Saudi leaders are not openly fomenting sectarian conflict, they are hardly renouncing it, mostly because sectarianism has proven an effective political instrument in the past.

In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia and Iran wielded and politicized Islam to great effect against one another, but also at great cost. While Saudi Arabia directed considerable energy to warding off the Soviet threat in Afghanistan, it also undertook and oversaw the complete vilification of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini and Shi'ism more generally by inculcating the kingdom's schools, religious institutions, and the public sphere with anti-Shi'ite vitriol. Anti-Shi'ism and anti-Shi'ite discrimination have, of course, always been present in Saudi Arabia. But the legacy of the 1980s is that political anti-Shi'ism remains a powerful impulse inside and outside Saudi Arabia. The Iraq war and the Shi'ite ascendancy there have rekindled some of the most vituperative sentiment.

Saudi Arabia's leaders have been especially reluctant to rein in sectarian fulmination at home, where powerful clerics have become increasingly strident in denouncing Shi'ites across the Middle East. Some of the most prominent non-official religious voices in Saudi Arabia, including Saffar al-Hawali, Nasr al-Umar, and Abdallah bin Jibreen, have clamored for anti-Shi'ite violence in Iraq and elsewhere. Several dozen Saudi clerics along with some counterparts in Iraq circulated a petition in December 2006 inciting the intensification rather than the amelioration of sectarian violence. Riyadh has remained silent.

The kingdom has made matters worse by cracking down on the kingdom's own Shi'ites in various ways, including suppressing Shi'ite cultural activities, harassing community leaders, interrupting the observation of religious rituals, and even arresting activists. The new official anti-Shi'ism marks a sudden reversal and stands in stark contrast to efforts led by then Crown Prince Abdullah just a few years ago that seemed aimed at promoting tolerance.

Sectarian patterns in Saudi Arabia provide a clue for how the kingdom might manage the issue at the regional level should tensions between it and Iran worsen. But even if Saudi leaders avoid making their struggle with Iran about sectarian difference, it will be difficult to convince publics across the region that the struggle is about anything else. With the unbounded reach of the new media, including the sophisticated web presence of many of Saudi Arabia' most fulsome religious figures, it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia's attempts to confront Iran and control sectarianism are sustainable.- Published 26/4/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org


Toby Jones is a Mellon post-doctoral fellow in the History Department at Swarthmore College. As of the fall 2007, he will be assistant professor of history at Rutgers University.


A new regional leadership
 Thomas W. Lippman

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia caused a lot of heartburn in official Washington with his speech last month at the Arab summit conference in Riyadh in which he referred to an "illegitimate foreign occupation" of Iraq.

The Americans had good reason to be distressed after reading the speech, but not because of what Abdullah said about Iraq. After all, he was addressing an Arab summit conference; he could hardly have endorsed the American adventure there, which everyone in his audience knew he had opposed.

No, what should have bothered the Americans was that the ruler of an important longstanding regional ally was so unhappy over US policy and performance in the Middle East that he took the unusual step of distancing himself publicly from Washington. Saudi Arabia always prefers to express its displeasure with the United States in private conversations and diplomatic exchanges. Only rarely in the 60 years of the alliance have Saudi leaders felt compelled to issue a public challenge, most notably during the oil embargo of 1973-74.

What was driving the king, senior aides said, was that he sees the Arab world in turmoil, Arabs shedding Arab blood, and American policies contributing to the problems rather than solving them. The Americans have failed to stabilize Iraq, failed to contain Iranian influence, failed to bring peace to the Palestinians and Israel, failed to relieve the suffering in Darfur, failed to rectify Syrian behavior, failed to protect Lebanon against Israeli attack and failed to resolve the ensuing Lebanese power struggle. Collectively, these failures threaten the security of Saudi Arabia, but more than that, in the king's perception, they threaten the security of the entire Arab nation.

Distraught over the carnage in Iraq and over the spectacle of Palestinians at war with themselves in the struggle between Hamas and Fateh, Abdullah concluded it was time for someone new to exert regional leadership--a role for which at the summit conference he offered himself.

King Abdullah was in "a very emotional state" over the infighting between Palestinian factions, his foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, said in a Newsweek interview. "He just couldn't believe that Palestinian guns are turned against Palestinian people and blood is shed and people are killed and children are orphaned by them fighting against each other while they're facing such horrendous treatment from the Israelis. He just couldn't take that."

Abdullah is not seeking a full-scale rupture with the United States, which his country cannot afford. But he has for many months pursued policy initiatives that deviated from Washington's preferences because he did not like what he was seeing. He brokered the Mecca agreement between the Palestinian factions, met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, received Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad in Riyadh and invited the Iranian foreign minister to the summit conference.

All these initiatives ran counter to the American policy of isolating Iran, Syria and Hamas. As Abdullah has recognized, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney live in an imaginary Middle East where people behave better if sent to bed without supper. The king lives in the real Middle East, where business gets done in face-to-face negotiations. The British did not recover the sailors and marines taken captive in the Shatt al-Arab by refusing to talk to the Iranians.

Americans who take a longer view of the region found positive elements in Abdullah's speech, as they have in his recent policy initiatives. Perhaps his most constructive point was that the mess in which the Arabs find themselves is their own fault. Unlike many of his subjects and their neighbors, he did not blame Mossad, the CIA or the "crusaders." He did not even blame Bush. He blamed Arab leaders, not excluding himself.

Citing the violence among the Palestinians and in Sudan, Somalia, and Lebanon, the king said that "the real blame should fall on us: the leaders of the Arab nations. Our permanent differences, our refusal to take the path of unity--all of that led the nations to lose their confidence in our credibility and to lose hope in our present and future." This assessment, and his call for "a new beginning aimed at uniting our hearts and closing our ranks", signal a continued willingness to cut pragmatic deals that could end some of the region's divisions, a vision Washington would do well to share.

One of the pragmatic deals Abdullah wants to pursue is a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians that would bring about the "two state solution" endorsed by the United States. As the king made clear in putting together the Mecca agreement, he does not share Bush's opinion that the two-state solution can be achieved by refusing to talk to the political group selected by the Palestinian people to lead their government.- Published 26/4/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org


Thomas W. Lippman, a former Middle East correspondent of the Washington Post, is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington and author of "Inside the Mirage: America's Fragile Partnership With Saudi Arabia".


The Iran file
 Afshin Molavi

As Arab presidents, emirs, and kings lined up alongside the United Nations secretary general and the Pakistani, Malaysian, and Turkish heads of state in last month's Arab League summit in Riyadh, one key player was missing at the highest level: Iran. Its nominal head of state, Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad, was not invited to the summit. Instead the relatively weak foreign minister, Manoucher Mottaki, attended on behalf of the Islamic Republic.

On the surface, this fits the caricature narrative that has emerged in policy and media circles on both sides of the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean: Saudi Arabia, the bulwark of Sunni Islam, is caught in a battle for regional hegemony tinged with sectarian hues against Iran, the bulwark of Shi'ite Islam.

This analysis, however, fails to capture the growing and diverse range of diplomatic contacts between Riyadh and Tehran in the last few months, the insistent and loud anti-sectarian statements made by top leaders on both sides, and the evolving Saudi-Iranian relationship over the past decade. It also fails to capture the strategic philosophy of the Islamic Republic and the personal thinking of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

Though Saudi Arabia and Iran are natural competitors for influence in the Muslim world, both sides have been at pains to lower the rhetoric and avoid an escalation in tensions brought about by the Iraq and Lebanon wars, differences over Palestine and Afghanistan and rising sectarian divisions in the region.

Ahmadinezhad did not attend the Arab League summit, but he visited Riyadh just a few weeks earlier in a meeting that climaxed a flurry of diplomatic activity between Riyadh and Tehran. Prince Bandar, Saudi Arabia's national security chief, has become a frequent visitor to Tehran and his counterpart Ali Larijani a regular traveler to Riyadh. There has also been a series of unpublicized private visits, according to informed sources, that may have even included Javad Zarif, Iran's ambassador to the UN, who has flown from New York to Riyadh for talks, and the sons of former president Rafsanjani, who are passing on messages in Riyadh from their still powerful father.

The Ahmadinezhad-King Abdullah meeting lowered tensions that had developed since the rise of the Iranian president to power in 2005. As one top advisor to the Saudi king told this author: "King Abdullah had developed close, personal friendships with Rafsanjani and Khatami (former presidents of Iran), but he could not understand or get close to Ahmadinezhad. He could not understand the theatrics and the outlandish statements. It reminded him of the early years of Iran's revolution. This also coincided with growing concerns [regarding] Iran's interference in Iraq." The meeting reportedly reduced misunderstandings, but didn't constitute a breakthrough. Ahmadinezhad returned home proclaiming that Saudi Arabia and Iran were on the same side against western "conspiracies"--an unlikely claim given Riyadh's close relationship with western powers.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, told Christopher Dickey of Newsweek that Riyadh had concerns with Iran's foreign policy, but "we have never put ourselves in a position of conflict with Iran." The Saudi king did, however, tell Ahmadinezhad bluntly: "You're interfering in Arab affairs." He also suggested, according to Saud al-Faisal, that Iran not dismiss US threats so lightly and that Iranian actions in the Arab world--whether construed as interference or not--have the potential to heighten Shi'ite-Sunni sectarian tensions, which in turn will harm Shi'ite communities across the region. "This the Iranians worry about," Saud al-Faisal said.

But the Saudi foreign minister is only partly right. Yes, the Islamic Republic feels an emotional obligation to help and protect Shi'ite communities, but it does not view itself as merely a sectarian Shi'ite power. Rather, it sees itself as a pan-Islamic leader, a view that stretches back to Khomeini's days. Even when Khomeini was calling for "Islamic revolution" in neighboring states and blasting the Saudis as "American puppets" and Wahabism as "American Islam", he rarely played the sectarian card. His targets of ire were not Sunnis, but America and Israel and their regional allies: political targets, not religious ones. The same holds true for Ayatollah Khamenei (Iran's real head of state), who fills his speeches today with complaints of "false divisions" in the Muslim world created by "Zionists" and "global arrogance".

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, for his part, has reached out to the Shi'ite minority at home more than any monarch in Saudi history. He regularly lashes out at sectarianism and has hosted leaders from Hizballah for talks on Lebanon as well as Shi'ite clerics from Iraq for a reconciliation conference in Mecca. In his "State of the Kingdom" speech on April 14 to the Majlis al-Shoura, his first item of business was a repudiation of sectarianism, calling it a threat to the national security of the state. And in his speech at the Arab League, in addition to calling the US venture in Iraq an "illegitimate occupation he lamented the "hateful sectarianism" embroiling the country.

From where does the Saudi king speak? After all, he still rules in alliance with a Wahabist religious establishment that is virulently anti-Shi'ite. Saudi public opinion also harbors a casual anti-Shi'ite attitude and Saudi Shi'ites, who make up some 10 to 15 percent of the population, still face an array of challenges to upward social mobility and limits on public displays of their faith.

The Saudi king, weaned in his intellectually formative years on a diet of pan-Arabism, Islamic unity and support for the Palestine cause, has been deeply pained by the rising Shi'ite-Sunni sectarian split, according to top aides interviewed during a recent visit to Riyadh. He views it as a threat to Arab and Muslim unity. He is also deeply emotionally attached to the Palestine issue. Indeed, Saud al-Faisal told Newsweek that the king's original response to the Hamas-Fateh fighting was conducted in "a very emotional state" that led to his diplomacy that prompted the Mecca Accord.

His is not the world view of the narrow Wahabist sheikh. His is the world view of the Arab nationalist, the Palestine sympathizer and the old guard enforcer of stability, tinged with an almost romantic notion of the preeminence of Muslim unity. And his views on Iran? They have evolved to an almost wary acceptance.

During the 1980s, then Crown Prince Abdullah and much of the Saudi establishment feared and reviled the Iranian state across the Persian Gulf. Indeed, it is said that they funded Iranian opposition figures in Europe. Khomeini regularly blasted the al-Sauds, even devoting several paragraphs of vitriol to them in his last will and testament. Meanwhile, King Fahd poured money into the Iraqi war effort against Iran, once famously saying to Saddam Hussein: "You provide the rijal (men), we provide the rials." In 1987, Saudi forces shot at Iranian pilgrims who were demonstrating during the annual Islamic pilgrimage, leading to riots that left some 400 dead. Khomeini banned Iranians from attending the haj for four years after that and the two countries broke diplomatic ties.

Rafsanjani paved the way for a rapprochement by making cautious overtures to Riyadh. Saudi Arabia also appreciated Iran's stance of neutrality on the first Gulf war. Diplomatic relations resumed in the early 1990s. Still, there was little or no people-to-people contact and no airline traffic between the two capitals. Saudi Shi'ites who wanted to visit Iran by plane would fly to Dubai first.

In the Khatami era, the Saudi-Iranian relationship bloomed. Riyadh embraced Khatami's foreign policy of inclusion. Crown Prince Abdullah's visit to Tehran in 1997 to attend an OIC summit proved to be an eye-opening experience for all sides. As a gentle snow drifted over Tehran, one member of the Saudi delegation stood outside, wide-eyed: "All these years we lived next to Iran, we never knew it snowed here."

Over the next few years, the two countries rediscovered each other. Flights between their respective capitals resumed. Trade delegations exchanged visits. Khatami and Crown Prince Abdullah spoke on the phone regularly. Oil ministers coordinated policies closely. Saudi Shi'ites began visiting Iranian pilgrimage sites. Saudi Arabia's fears of revolutionary Iran dissipated and Tehran came to understand that Riyadh was not the lapdog of America that Khomeini depicted. There was even talk of joint military exercises; a "security agreement" was signed in 2002.

The election of Ahmadinezhad and the multiple crises roiling the region have added new stresses to the relationship. Still, recent history, the convergence of interests in oil and regional stability and the wary understanding that, despite Ahmadinezhad's problematic rhetoric, each side needs the other are the key drivers in the relationship today.- Published 26/4/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org


Afshin Molavi, a journalist and fellow at the Washington DC-based New America Foundation, was a Dubai-based correspondent with Reuters.


Freezing the crisis in Lebanon
 Michel Nehme

The decision by Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat to remove the Soviet military presence from his country during the summer of 1972 has often been viewed as a consequence of the first regional step originating with a powerful faction within the Saudi royal tribe. The idea was to discretely use funds to reduce domestic Islamic opposition, and to accept financial demands by allies such as the United States to quell neighborhood threats.

After the ouster of Iraq's Saddam Hussein and as Iran's nuclear ambitions grew, King Abdullah began openly discussing the Saudi stand with regard to Middle East conflict situations and assuming a major lead in regional diplomacy, including championing the recent Arab summit. There, Abdullah's speech was a strongly worded admonition to Arab leaders that their divisions had exacerbated disorder across the Middle East; he urged them to demonstrate unity. In order to gain support from newly rising anti-American factions in the Arab world Abdullah, in opening the summit, dared to criticize his closest ally, the United States, for its continuing presence in Iraq.

The new Saudi approach to solving regional problems reflects the kingdom's fear of rising Persian Shi'ite might that could alter the regional balance of power and undermine Sunni Arab supremacy in a number of regional states--beginning with Lebanon, via Syria, which is tightly dependent on Iran, to the ongoing disintegration in Iraq, and culminating in growing destabilization of all the Arab littoral states of the Arabian Gulf. Accelerated and daring Saudi diplomacy is also related to the fear that American influence as an element of support in the region is on the decline, especially if solutions to Iraq's problems are not found quickly.

Abdullah and Saudi Arabia have many regional and global concerns where stability was supposed to have been secured by the US. Aside from trying hard to maintain the domestic status-quo in Arab states, the Saudis feel obliged to stabilize Arab societies in turmoil. Hence Abdullah's nephew, Prince Bandar, the long-time ambassador to the United States, has been chosen to tackle tough issues that include:


  • Preventing Iraq from further collapsing and falling totally to Persian Shi'ite power, an event that would leverage the creation of a "Shi'ite crescent" grouping Iran with Iraq, Lebanon, Hamas and Syria.
  • Maintaining a Palestinian unity government despite all the negative political ramifications for a long-term Arab-Israel peace settlement.
  • Transforming the Arab-Israel peace process into a collective Arab endeavor instead of an individualized state effort.
  • Exerting high-leveled diplomacy to help Lebanon overcome the political stalemate of ratifying the Hariri tribunal and preparing constitutionally for presidential elections.

The new Saudi diplomacy has met with praise in Washington as well as Egypt, Jordan and, surprisingly, Israel, which shares Saudi Arabia's fears. The Saudis have proven in the last few months that they have better leverage than the Americans in preparing the groundwork for solving simmering regional conflicts.

For as long as America refuses to recognize Iran as an important key regional player and declines to negotiate directly with Tehran, the Saudis may be the best alternative. They have been able to halt acceleration of the conflict in Lebanon by drawing fixed boundaries to the feuds there short of a civil war. They were able to lead wide-ranging talks with Iran and Syria about the political crisis between the American-backed Lebanese government led by Fuad Siniora and the Iranian-backed Hizballah party, where both have declared civil strife as a red line. While the crisis is not over, Saudi officials hope that by freezing it, buying time and awaiting positive developments in the political arena, they have found the best short-term measure.

The Saudis assess that it will be more possible to find solutions for the problems in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq if the Arabs and Israel revive the 2002 Arab initiative that offers Israel peace if it withdraws from lands it seized in the 1967 war. Saudi diplomacy is working hard to create working groups to promote this revived initiative in talks with the US, UN and Europe and through them with Israel. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt hope that the working groups can act behind the scenes to make the initiative more acceptable to Israel and the West and turn it into the basis for resuming talks. They also hope that hard-line Syria, which opposes changing the 2002 Arab initiative, will also seek to join, fearing it will be undermined from within by an indictment for committing terrorist crimes in Lebanon.- Published 26/4/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org


Prof. Michel Nehme is director of University International Affairs, Notre Dame University, Lebanon.



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