Published — Friday 28 March 2014
Last update 29 March 2014 2:23 am
There can be no downplaying the importance of the visit of President Barack Obama who will hold talks with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah today. Over Syria, Palestine and Iran in particular, the two countries have much to discuss at what seems a crucially important moment for the Middle East.
The Kingdom has enjoyed a long friendship with the United States based on mutual respect and understanding. Washington has appreciated Saudi Arabia’s pivotal role in the Gulf and the wider Arab world and Islamic community. And it has also accepted with alacrity key initiatives such as the 2002 Abdullah framework for Palestinian peace, which remains the cornerstone of the current stumbling negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.
However, no relationship between sovereign nations can avoid differences. There have been times when wise advice proffered by the Kingdom was not responded to by Washington very positively — especially in two important policy areas — Syria and Iran.
From the outset three years ago, it was clear that Syria was experiencing a popular uprising against the endless repression by Bashar Assad regime. The final straw was the police murder of children who had sprayed anti-regime graffiti on a wall in Deraa. A fast-spreading popular revolt was met by brutality that appalled a watching world. Refugees began to flee as the violence unfolded. In the early days, the insurgents only had the light weapons of defectors or those they had seized from Assad’s troops and arsenals. With these they fought back against well-trained government forces heavily armed by Syria’s all-important ally, Russia.
The Arab League’s valiant efforts to broker a truce and end the conflict, not least in the beleaguered city of Hama, were from the outset exploited by Damascus to replenish and regroup its forces while continuing assaults on insurgent positions out of sight of the international media. At this point, firm international action, led by the United States, could have stopped the fighting for real. It did not require more US boots on the ground. It simply needed the strategic destruction of key Assad military infrastructure. The message would have been that if he did not negotiate for real, the Syrian leader would see the same detailed obliteration of his aircraft and tanks that had been visited on Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. But since no action was taken Assad continued with his killing spree.
Likewise, the United States' clear eagerness for a rapprochement with Iran has confused a straightforward issue. Iran is being sanctioned because it refused to comply with its international treaty obligations to have its nuclear program inspected. Yet it is being rewarded with reduced sanctions, for being prepared to negotiate about an obligation which is in fact non-negotiable. When sanctions are fully lifted, it ought not to be a reward for good behavior. Rather it ought to be seen simply as the ending of a punishment for bad behavior.
And given Iranian interference in the support of Assad, it is odd that the country is being given concessions. Had the US taken that into account before going for rapprochement, it would have gone very well with the countries in the region.
Also the United States has done nothing to force the Netanyahu government to quit its illegal settlement building and sit down and talk for real with the Palestinians. Let's hope the US president's current visit to the Kingdom opens a new chapter of fair and balanced US approach toward the Syrian and Iranian issues.