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Monday, November 29, 2010

Wikileaks cables: Saudis reject linkage of Iran with 'peace process'

Everyone who writes a political blog will undoubtedly have their favorite Wikileaks cable out of the thousands that were leaked to the public on Sunday. So far, at least, this one is mine.

The argument that the Obama administration has used on Israel to try to push it into making a bad deal with the 'Palestinians' is the argument that if only Israel would make peace with the 'Palestinians,' the US would be able to assemble a coalition to oppose Iran's nuclear weapons. This argument is known as 'linkage' and it has been used to tie 'peace' with the 'Palestinians' to just about everything the West wants the Arab world to do from democracy to granting equal rights to women to bombing Iran to allowing freedom of religion. That argument was rejected in March 2009 - at least with respect to forming a coalition to deprive Iran of a nuclear capability - by Saudi King Abdullah in a meeting with Obama's anti-terror adviser, John 'al-Quds' Brennan (Hat Tip: Martin Kramer via Twitter).

8. (S) A "HEATED EXCHANGE": The King noted that Iranian FM Mottaki had been "sitting in that same seat (as Brennan) a few moments ago." The King described his conversation with FM Mottaki as "a heated exchange, frankly discussing Iran's interference in Arab affairs." When challenged by the King on Iranian meddling in Hamas affairs, Mottaki apparently protested that "these are Muslims." "No, Arabs" countered the King, "You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters." The King said the Iranians wanted to improve relations and that he responded by giving Mottaki an ultimatum. "I will give you one year" (to improve ties), "after that, it will be the end." [Lest anyone think that the Arabs and the Persians have forgotten their rivalry. CiJ]

9. (S) "SPARE US YOUR EVIL": The King expressed hope the U.S. would review its Iran policy and "come to the right conclusion." Brennan responded that President Obama was personally reviewing U.S. Iran policy and wanted to hear the King's thoughts. Abdullah asserted that Iran is trying to set up Hizballah-like organizations in African countries, observing that the Iranians don't think they are doing anything wrong and don't recognize their mistakes. "I said (to Mottaki) that's your problem," recounted the King. Abdullah said he would favor Rafsanjani in an Iranian election, were he to run. He described Iran not as "a neighbor one wants to see," but as "a neighbor one wants to avoid." He said the Iranians "launch missiles with the hope of putting fear in people and the world." A solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict would be a great achievement, the King said, but Iran would find other ways to cause trouble. "Iran's goal is to cause problems," he continued, "There is no doubt something unstable about them." He described Iran as "adventurous in the negative sense," and declared "May God prevent us from falling victim to their evil." Mottaki had tendered an invitation to visit Iran, but Abdullah said he replied "All I want is for you to spare us your evil." Summarizing his history with Iran, Abdullah concluded: "We have had correct relations over the years, but the bottom line is that they cannot be trusted."


11. (S) A DANGEROUS NEIGHBORHOOD: Brennan responded that the Saudis lived in a dangerous neighborhood with Iran across the Gulf, with Saudi Arabia sharing a long border with Yemen, and with a number of other troublesome countries nearby. Brennan noted that we have a lot of work to do in the Middle East together. The King responded that the world,s attention was focused on the region. He further stated that he believed that the U.S. could help in this sensitive region, but that we should not take matters lightly. Brennan noted that President Obama is fully aware of the dangers in the region, that the U.S. knew that it had to remain involved in constructing a solution, and that we would seek the King,s counsel in dealing with the many issues in the Middle East. The King asked if that included Iran. Brennan responded that it did. Brennan said that we had our eyes wide open to Iranian ambitions, that we were not nave to the dangers Iran posed to Saudi Arabia, and that Iran could not be allowed to succeed in its destabilizing activites. Brennan observed that the President had ordered a complete review of U.S. Iran policy and made reference to a passage in the President,s letter that we needed to test Iran,s intentions to cease its destabilizing behavior and live up to its international obligations. Brennan further observed that the U.S.-Saudi partnership had to remain strong and that together, and with others, we needed to thwart Iran,s nuclear ambitions. "That is important," responded the King. Finally, Brennan said the President wanted the King to know he had a good friend in the White House who would be willing to assist in any way that he could. The King thanked Mr. Brennan, said he appreciated the sentiments, said that he had great respect for President Obama, and reflected that we had been great friends for many years and would remain friends as our disagreements were minor.
Here's another curious point from the same cable. American diplomats in this region are constantly saying that no meeting with an Arab leader is complete without a half-hour dressdown over US policy on Israel. Well, look what this cable labels as "THAT WITHOUT WHICH NO SAUDI MEETING IS COMPLETE:"
Abdullah said "as a friend" that "it was a mistake" to limit access of Saudi citizens to the U.S., since "this damages bilateral relations and the image of the U.S. in Saudi Arabia." The King noted there were 60,000 Saudi students abroad, about one third of whom were in the U.S., and "others would have gone" but for the difficulties in gaining access to the U.S. The King noted that for many years very senior Saudi officials, including Prince Saud al-Faisal, had studied in the U.S. He then noted that Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Adel al Jubeir (who was interpreting for the King) had studied in the U.S. and was "half American" as a result. He also said he was aware of, and appreciated, Ambassador Fraker's efforts to improve the visa situation "even though there were people in Washington who fought him." Finally, he observed that anyone from Saudi Arabia who studies in the U.S. inevitably becomes a friend and advocate of the United States and that we only hurt ourselves by cutting off this flow of students.

So why does the Obama administration keep insisting that they would have a much easier time assembling a coalition against Iran if we were to retreat to the 1949 armistice lines (which former Israeli ambassador to the UN Abba Eban famously termed 'Auschwitz borders') and let the 'Palestinians' have their reichlet? I believe that there are two reasons. One is that Obama really believes that there is a 'fierce moral urgency' to cut Israel back and establish a 'Palestinian state.' The other is that he just doesn't like us.

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