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Distrusting America, Saudi Arabia Embarks on More Assertive Role

Posted on 19 May 2011 by hashimilion

As U.S. President Barack Obama seeks to reinvigorate his administration’s policy in the Middle East, he will have to contend with several issues where U.S. influence is less than overwhelming.

Chief among them, according to Middle East analysts, is the growing assertiveness of Saudi Arabia as it confronts Iranian influence in the region and tilts away from its historic bargain with the U.S.: oil for security.

In recent months, the Saudis have essentially taken the gloves off — sending troops into Bahrain to prop up the island’s Sunni monarchy against a rebellious Shiite majority; consolidating their relationship with Pakistan as a regional counterweight to Iran; and expanding the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to reinforce the club of Sunni monarchies.

Through the GCC Saudi Arabia has also moved to resolve the crisis in Yemen, its neighbor to the south, where al Qaeda is establishing a foothold and where the Saudis suspect Iranian meddling.

Their core mission, says Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, “is to ensure stability in their neighborhood.” Bremmer believes “the single most important long-term implication of the Arab Spring may be a consolidated GCC that is tacking away from the West.”

At the same time, the Saudi kingdom’s relations with the United States have deteriorated — in part over the Obama administration’s support for pro-democracy movements in the Arab world. On two occasions in recent months, according to well-placed sources in the Gulf, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia even refused to meet senior U.S. officials.

Earlier this week, Saudi grievances were laid out in a Washington Post op-ed by Nawaf Obaid, a consummate insider and a senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. Describing a “tectonic shift” in the Saudi-U.S. relationship, he complained of an “ill-conceived response to the Arab protest movements and an unconscionable refusal to hold Israel accountable” for its settlement-building in Palestinian territories. On the latter issue, he said the U.S. “had lost all credibility.”

Obaid also echoed some of the criticisms made last year by Prince Turki al Faisal, a former ambassador to the United States who said that “negligence, ignorance and arrogance” had cost America the “moral high ground” it held after 9/11.

Saudi alienation from Washington predates the Obama administration. Riyadh saw the invasion of Iraq as a disaster because it unleashed Shiite influence in a country traditionally dominated by its Sunni minority. Several Saudi officials have described Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki — who leads a Shia-dominated government — as an “Iranian agent.”

The Saudis also complained that the Bush administration had “dropped the ball” on the Israel-Palestinian peace process by not endorsing King Abdullah’s plan for a two-state solution, with east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. That, they argued, had only strengthened more radical forces in the region, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Above all, the Saudi establishment has long been anxious that the threat it perceives from Iran is not adequately acknowledged in Washington.

U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published last year showed growing Saudi impatience with U.S. caution toward Iran’s nuclear program, with King Abdullah quoted as urging Gen. David Petraeus to “cut off the head of the snake” during a meeting in April 2008. A year later, the King is quoted as telling President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, that he hoped the U.S. would review its Iran policy and “come to the right conclusion.”

So now, Obaid writes, “Riyadh intends to pursue a much more assertive foreign policy, at times conflicting with American interests.”

One long-time observer of Saudi policy says the kingdom is preparing to use its wealth and economic growth (forecast at nearly 6% this year, thanks to the rising price of crude oil) to lead an expanded bloc as old certainties wither away.

The Saudis plan to spend $100 billion to modernize their armed forces, buy a new generation of combat aircraft and add 60,000 Interior Ministry troops. Like other Gulf states, Saudi Arabia also plans to expand its special forces.

Beyond its borders the kingdom wants to expand the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, until now a club of wealthy monarchies, by inviting Jordan and Morocco to join. They might not have much money, but they, too, are ruled by Sunni monarchs and have — by regional standards — cohesive and well-trained armies.

In return, Gulf largesse would help support their weak economies. Amid recriminations and confusion in the Arab League — whose planned Baghdad summit has just been postponed for a whole year — the Saudis see the GCC as the institutional antidote to the upheavals of the Arab Spring.

Saudi Arabia has already created a $20 billion fund to assist Bahrain and Oman. And the dispatch of some 1,000 troops to Bahrain in March served notice to Tehran that Saudi Arabia would not tolerate a Shiite-dominated state a few miles off its coast.

“Sending a force to Bahrain was a necessary evil for the GCC in order to protect the monarchy in Bahrain,” says Theodore Karasik of the Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “If a monarchy falls in the region, this might create a domino effect.”

It was also a slap in the face to U.S. policy in the region, which was focused on coaxing dialogue in Bahrain. Just days before the Saudi intervention, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Bahrain urging King Hamad to take more than “baby steps” towards reform.

That followed alarm in Riyadh over the Obama administration’s desertion of long-time ally Hosni Mubarak, who had cultivated close ties with the Gulf states and who was regarded by the Saudis as another Arab bulwark against “Iranian expansionism.” The U.S. eventually told Mubarak it was time to go, but the Saudi royal family supported him to the end, even offering to make up for any cut in U.S. aid.

Bremmer of the Eurasia Group says the United States does hold important cards — through multi-billion-dollar arms contracts and long-established relationships in the oil industry. And regional analysts say that ultimately Saudi Arabia would likely appeal for and get U.S. help in any showdown with Iran.

Bremmer says that much in the Gulf revolves around personal relationships and loyalties, and he says the Obama administration needs to invest more in that, starting at the top. By contrast, senior executives in U.S. oil companies — by and large no fans of the president’s energy policy — do talk with the Saudis.

In the longer-term, a Saudi tilt to the East may simply reflect new economic realities. Some 55% of Saudi oil now flows to Asia, compared with about 10% that flows to the United States. The Saudi state oil firm has built refineries in China, and trade between the two countries was worth $40 billion in 2010.

As relations with the West fray, Bremmer concludes that “a far-reaching Saudi-China strategic partnership could well result alongside expanded Chinese contracts to buy long-term access to Saudi oil and Chinese investment in developing Saudi infrastructure.”

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U.S Saudi Counter-Terrorism Partnership

Posted on 14 May 2011 by hashimilion

VZCZCXRO5227
OO RUEHBC RUEHDBU RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHDIR RUEHIHL RUEHKUK RUEHLH RUEHPW
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DE RUEHRH #0408/01 0691436
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O 101436Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY RIYADH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0356
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 RIYADH 000408
SIPDIS
DEPARTMENT FOR M U/S PKENNEDY, DOE FOR DAS WBRYAN, CENTCOM
FOR POLAD
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/11/2014
TAGS: ECON ENRG EPET IR IZ MARR MCAP MOPS OVP PGOV
PK, PREL, PTER, SA, YM
SUBJECT: SAG-USG COUNTER-TERRORISM PARTNERSHIP
REF: A. A:07 RIYADH 1778
¶B. B: RIYADH 272
¶C. C: RIYADH 268
¶D. D: RIYADH 326
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission David Rundell
for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)
¶1. (C) SUMMARY. The SAG’s MOI-hosted Security Conference in
Riyadh and the meeting between CENTCOM DCOM LtGen John Allen
with Asst. Minister for National Security Affairs Prince
Mohammed bin Naif (MbN) highlight the SAG’s commitment to
counter-terrorist activity in the Kingdom by partnering with
the USG in protecting its critical infrastructure, especially
its energy production sites. MbN reconfirmed the SAG’s
commitment to pay all critical infrastructure protection
costs of the Office of Program Management-Ministry of
Interior (OPM-MOI), including USG employee salaries. He
concurred any changes necessary in the Technical Cooperation
Agreement (TCA) be made to allow such payments, but remarked
hopefully the lawyers would not be problematic. Regarding
the Saudi deradicalization program, he considered it a
success in generating Saudi public anger at radical
extremists and was unconcerned by those who escaped the
program to rejoin Al Qaeda (AQ), noting they actually serve
the SAG’s purpose because they delegitimize extremism by
rebuffing the chance for rehabilitation and a new life,
further alienating violent radicals from the populace. MbN
did express concern that some ARAMCO employees posed a threat
of internal sabotage to oil facilities due to extremist
sympathies. END SUMMARY.
OPM-MOI NOW OPERATIONAL
———————–
¶2. (SBU) OPM-MOI, a DOS-led interagency security assistance
organization including DOE and DOD, established by the formal
TCA signed by the Secretary and Minister of Interior HRH
Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in May 2008 to partner with
the Saudi MOI in protecting the Kingdom’s critical
infrastructure with full SAG funding (Reftel A), is now
operational in Saudi Arabia. In the March 9 meeting between
LtGen Allen and MbN, LtGen Allen introduced the senior U.S.
military officer assigned to assist the MOI in training its
Facilities Security Force (FSF). Likewise, we informed MbN
of the arrival of the senior DOS officer in Riyadh on March
10 to serve as OPM-MOI’s Program Manager and overall leader.
These officers, along with the senior DOE Liaison and
associated CENTCOM and Embassy Riyadh personnel, now serve as
the core of OPM-MOI who will begin assisting the Saudis in
enhancing the protection of their critical infrastructure,
with initial focus on Saudi oil facilities.
¶3. (C) LtGen Allen reaffirmed to MbN the USG’s full
commitment to the protection of Saudi critical
infrastructure, emphasizing that CENTCOM Commander GEN David
Petraeus guarantees CENTCOM’s full support to this program.
Both concurred on the importance to the global economy of
preventing terrorists from attacking Saudi oil facilities.
MbN asserted the goal is to prevent attacks from ever being
carried out, recommending OPM-MOI include intelligence links
in its operational plans. LtGen Allen commended MOI’s
success in dealing with internal terrorist threats in the
Kingdom, and its successful rehabilitation program with Saudi
Guantanamo returnees and extremists captured in Saudi Arabia.
RIYADH 00000408 002 OF 003
¶4. (SBU) MbN was informed that the initial OPM-MOI work
contracts, consisting of the DOE Project Specific Agreement
(PSA) to conduct vulnerability assessments of oil sites and
the DOD Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) to implement
urgent needs training of FSF troops, have been submitted to
MOI staff for approval and signature. MbN was grateful for
USG efforts and assured us full funding would soon follow the
signing of these documents, and reconfirmed the SAG’s
commitment to pay all OPM-MOI costs. He also agreed to fund
all USG employee costs, concurring with any necessary TCA
changes to allow such payments, commenting that “hopefully
the lawyers will not cause us any problems.”
¶5. (SBU) MbN had previously acknowledged to the Ambassador
the MOI’s lack of technical capacity in effectively working
with OPM-MOI. To rectify this problem, OPM-MOI has begun
coordination with the Saudis for SAG-funded English language
and management training in the U.S. for mid-level MOI
officers who will be our future interlocutors. In the
interim, OPM-MOI is drafting a plan for MOI to contract and
fund bilingual Americans experienced in USG contracting and
Foreign Military Sales to work in MOI assisting in PSA, LOA,
and related OPM-MOI projects.
DEFUSING THE INTERNAL SAUDI THREAT
———————————-
¶6. (SBU) MOI sponsored the second annual Riyadh Security
Conference from March 2-5, which included such notables as
FBI Director Robert Mueller and former Attorney General Edwin
Meese. Other participants were U.S., British and Saudi
security officials, academics, and the U.S. and U.K
Ambassadors to the Kingdom. The theme of this well-received
conference was how to deradicalize extremists. This topic
was noteworthy as several Saudi Guantanamo returnees had
recently disappeared, with two resurfacing in Yemen as AQ
members (Reftels B, C and D).
¶7. (C) In private discussions with us, MbN observed it was
unfortunate these individuals had escaped and some had
rejoined AQ, but stated the Saudi deradicalization
rehabilitation program was nonetheless a success and was
unconcerned by these individuals. He explained while these
Guantanamo returnees rejoining AQ in Yemen was embarrassing
to the SAG, the program itself was achieving the true goal of
turning the Saudi populace against extremist radicals. These
individuals were being denounced by the Saudi public, and
even by their immediate families. The SAG was offering these
individuals employment and marriage opportunities to allow
new, peaceful and productive lives. MbN shared that if the
Saudi people saw that the SAG had offered these extremists a
helping hand which they slapped away, instead of a clenched
fist used against them, then their families, tribes and the
Saudi nation as a whole would view the SAG as “the
benefactor” and these unrepentant extremists as “deviants.”
According to MbN, in Arab culture this is an extremely
powerful and advantageous position for the SAG as it cuts off
the necessary public support extremists need to operate.
THREATS – YEMEN, IRAN AND FROM WITHIN
————————————-
¶8. (C) In response to his views on the current threat, MbN
listed three:
— Yemen was “a dangerous, failed state” similar to
Afghanistan by allowing AQ to regroup and become its
RIYADH 00000408 003 OF 003
operational base. He mentioned the SAG was using its funds
to gain Yemeni tribal cooperation through public works
programs, especially as a way to curb the lawlessness along
the Saudi-Yemeni border. MbN offered that while Yemeni
President Saleh was not the best leader, after 30 years in
power, his removal, either through natural causes or
rebellion, would leave a vacuum that would further weaken
Yemen. He opined that overtures to the Taliban in
Afghanistan were useful, as it would make Al Qaeda leaders
there nervous and unsure if they would be betrayed, but this
would also make them more likely to seek “safe haven” in
Yemen. LtGen Allen informed that U.S. Special Forces and
U.S. Navy trainers were stepping cooperation with Yemeni
forces to counter border and maritime threats.
— Iran, according to MbN, was a greater threat from its
destabilizing actions than from its nuclear program. He
added Iran currently has many weaknesses due to its
deteriorating economy. USG overtures for talks with Iran
would exploit those weaknesses and further undermine the
mullahs.

— Regarding the internal Saudi threat, MbN stated AQ was
beaten down in the Kingdom, but he was concerned of “insiders
in ARAMCO” and that ARAMCO employees with full access to its
facilities were extremists or extremist/Hezbollah
sympathizers, using their authorized access and/or technical
knowledge to commit sabotage. Again, he then emphasized the
importance of OPM-MOI to provide rapid training of the FSF
and detailed assessments of the vulnerabilities of Saudi oil
facilities.
¶9. (C) COMMENT. The SAG has worked to counter terrorism
within the Kingdom, achieving significant success. Both
through its kinetic operations against AQ, to its soft power
deradicalization rehabilitation program where it has turned
the Saudi public against AQ and violent extremism. Bilateral
cooperation on the protection of Saudi critical
infrastructure, as previously reported, is of immense
importance to ensure adequate energy supplies are available
to the global economy. OPM-MOI offers a tremendous venue to
strengthen the U.S.-Saudi bilateral relationship which then
allows a broadening of Saudi support on a host of issues.
END COMMENT.
FRAKER

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