Camp David summit: GCC made its point

Updated 22 May 2015

Camp David summit: GCC made its point

It is one of the risks of longstanding friendships that one side can take the other for granted. Saudi Arabia has been a loyal and constant ally of the United States. However, the Kingdom prefers to work quietly in matters of foreign affairs. It is not interested in megaphone diplomacy. Thus, there have been times when Washington has assumed too much.
The Iranian nuclear talks have been a case in point. Revanchist Iran is desperate for an end to crippling economic and financial sanctions. President Barack Obama is hardly less desperate for a foreign policy win. The Americans led on the imposition of sanctions. Now they are leading on the talks to persuade Iran to comply with its inspection obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Washington believes that a deal is tantalizingly near. The Obama administration seems mesmerized. It wants to believe that an agreement with Iran will stop further development of its nuclear weapons program. It wants to believe that Iran will stick to what it signs, even though this whole imbroglio has come about precisely because Iran has not honored its past pledges.
The White House’s key error has been to become fixated on a single outcome. By so doing it has failed to embrace the wider implications of an unsanctioned Iran reasserting itself in the region. It has also taken for granted the approval and support of Saudi Arabia and its fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. It has also clearly chosen to ignore a great deal of quiet advice passed on by the Kingdom.
Iran is bent on interfering in the Arab world. It has sustained Basher Assad’s regime in Syria. It has been instrumental in perpetuating the political chaos and sectarian divisions in Iraq. It has fostered the terrorist organization Hezbollah in Lebanon. It has fomented unrest in Bahrain and in Eastern Province. But still the Obama White House proceeded in search of the elusive nuclear deal and did not seek a wider agreement.
Then came Iran’s backing of the Houthi rebels in Yemen. This was Obama’s wake-up call. As he had been warned consistently by his Saudi ally, Tehran was dealing from the bottom of the pack. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman acted immediately and decisively to stem the Houthi advance and frustrate Tehran’s latest piece of devilment.
Saudi support for the Yemeni government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in turn produced rapid support from Washington. It also appears to have brought the Americans to their senses. Obama had been taking his friends in the GCC for granted. Last week’s summit at Camp David was an overdue consultation. But however late, it was a welcome opportunity for the president to listen to the views of the Kingdom and its five fellow Gulf states.
Obama made a point of recognizing that the GCC represented regional security. He also clearly accepted that Washington should be “moving together” with the GCC. This was a belated recognition by the president that US policy toward Iran had gotten out of step with its Gulf allies.
There can be no doubt that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, who led the Saudi delegation at Camp David, drove home the message that any settlement with Iran should have a wider compass than merely its nuclear program. He made it clear that the Kingdom and its Gulf friends are no longer in the mood to put up with further interference from Iran. Yemen was the last straw.
Obama said after the talks that a nuclear-armed Iran would be potentially reckless and dangerous. He might have added the word “more” to “reckless and dangerous”.
The president has confirmed that in the coming weeks there will be further meetings. These will look at security and defense systems and early warning technology. It would seem to be a measure of the seriousness with which he is finally taking the Saudi-led concerns about Iran’s good faith, that he himself will be chairing the joint committees agreed at Camp David.
A further outcome of this important meeting was that Washington is finally including the GCC in the nuclear treaty talks. Obama explained the heads of agreement with Tehran. He has undertaken to consult on the final details, as and when they are hammered out.
On the face of it, the Camp David meeting was a tacit admission that the Obama administration had got it wrong. It should have included the Kingdom and the rest of the GCC in the nuclear talks process from the outset. It made the error of taking its friends for granted.

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.