The Saudis simply don’t trust President Obama. They don’t trust Iran either.
By Nehad Ismail.
Last week’s Camp David summit was hailed as a success story in Washington. The strained relations between the Gulf Co-operation Council and the USA may have slightly warmed, but the mutual distrust remains. President Obama sought to reassure the region that the nuclear deal with Iran is in their interest and lifting of sanctions will improve the lives of the Iranian people. But the Saudis and their fellow GCC members didn’t buy it. They believe Iran will use the flow of funds to prop up the Assad’s regime in Syria, and other proxies in the region.
The general feeling in the Middle East and in particular in the Arab Sunni states is that President Obama is not trust-worthy. His numerous promises to be tough against President Assad of Syria who launched chemical weapon attacks on his own people proved to be hollow. Obama’s focus is to appease the Mullahs of Iran who are the main backers of the Assad’s regime.
Since 2011, Tehran has backed both state- and non-state actors that Riyadh argues have destabilized the region: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Shiite militias in Iraq, and most recently Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, which is now leading a coalition of countries fighting the Houthis in Yemen, fears any U.S. rapprochement with Iran would only embolden Tehran’s proxies.
We all remember Obama’s “red lines” when the President promised action if the Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. Assad had done it again and again and Obama found excuses and justifications to avoid doing anything. The Saudis were simply stunned.
Next came the revelation in 2013 that Obama was secretly negotiating with Iran, the mortal enemy of both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Officials in both countries don’t believe that the president can influence Iran’s ambition to get nuclear weapons.
“The bond of trust between America and Saudi Arabia has been broken in the Obama years,” a Saudi commentator said at the time. “We feel we have been stabbed in the back by Obama.”
It is widely believed that Obama is focusing on one thing only – concluding a nuclear deal with Iran at any cost and disregarding the wishes of his allies in the Middle East. The Gulf Co-operation Council countries and other players in the region don’t believe that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful. Negotiations between Iran and the US,UK, France, Germany, Russia and China ended April 2nd with a statement on the framework that will be finalized by June 30th after which sanctions imposed on Iran would be lifted.
Iranian leaders keep reminding the world that “Iran would never sign an agreement with P5+1 on the basis of verification” said Hussein Salami Deputy Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.
A CNN report stated that there’s a big fear that Iran could be advancing its nuclear ambitions at sites unknown to the world.
“Iran has about 18,000 centrifuges, 10,000 of which are still spinning today. It already has many of the building blocks necessary for a nuclear bomb”.
The International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Yukiya Amano said in March “The verification process is stalled as Iran failed to provide key information to the agency”.
Iran has failed to explain why it purchased materials needed to build many thousands of high speed centrifuges or why Natanz and Fordow nuclear facilities which house the centrifuges were built secretly? Iran refused to answer questions relating to the Possible Military Dimensions of their nuclear program.
It is not surprising that the Saudis feel threatened by the agreement between Iran and the Western Powers plus Russia to be concluded on 30th June. The Arabs fear a nuclear Iran will dominate the Middle East one day, they worry the agreement will dramatically alter the delicate regional balance of power in Tehran’s favour.
According to the Wall Street Journal (17 May) there are widespread public calls in Saudi Arabia to match Iran’s nuclear quest. The two other Middle East heavyweights, Turkey and Egypt, could also feel compelled to follow suit. The Saudis are nervous and disappointed by Obama’s indifference to their security needs. In March Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi Intelligence said “If Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to whatever level, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s going to ask for that.”
The Sunday Times said on 17th May that Saudi Arabia has taken the “strategic decision” to acquire “off-the-shelf” atomic weapons from Pakistan” and it appears Saudi Arabia will acquire a nuclear capability sooner than we think.
The donkey work has been done in Pakistan with lot of Saudi money funding the research and development. Given their close relations and close military links, it has long been assumed that if the Saudis wanted, they would call Pakistan to supply them immediately with nuclear warheads.
In a nutshell Saudi Arabia will not stand idle and let Iran develops nuclear weapons. President Obama has misjudged the mood in the Arab World which considers him to be the first US President in history to enable Iran to become a nuclear power.
Nehad Ismail is a Middle East Commentator. He tweets @nehadismail