Mistrust overshadows Obama’s Saudi trip

Assad Abboud
Mistrust fueled by differences over Iran and Syria overshadows a decades-long Saudi-US alliance.

MISTRUST IN THE AIR? President Barack Obama meets King Abdullah on March 28, 2014. File photo by Saul Loeb/AFP

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – King Abdullah meets President Barack Obama on Friday, March 28, as mistrust fueled by differences over Iran and Syria overshadows a decades-long Saudi-US alliance.

Saudi Arabia has strong reservations about attempts by Washington and other major powers to negotiate a deal with Iran on its nuclear program, and disappointment over Obama’s 11th-hour decision last year not to take military action against the Syrian regime over chemical weapons attacks.

Saudi-US relations, dating back seven decades, are “tense due to Washington’s stances” on the Middle East, especially Iran, said Saudi analyst Abdel Aziz al-Sagr, who heads the Gulf Research Center.

The recent rapprochement between Tehran and Washington “must not take place at the expense of relations with Riyadh,” Sagr told AFP.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, long wary of Shiite Iran’s regional ambitions, views the November deal with Iran as a risky venture that could embolden Tehran.

The interim agreement curbs Iran’s controversial nuclear activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief, and is aimed at buying time to negotiate a comprehensive accord.

Sagr said “arming the Syrian opposition will top the agenda” during Obama’s visit, his second since his election in 2009.

Analyst Khaled al-Dakhil spoke of “major differences” with Washington, adding that Obama will focus on easing “Saudi fears on Iran and on regional security.”

Saudi Arabia, which leads the 6-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, fears that a US withdrawal from the Middle East and a diplomatic overture towards Iran would further feed Tehran’s regional ambitions.

Iranian-Saudi rivalry crystallized with the Syrian conflict: Tehran backs President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and several GCC states support the rebellion against him. – Rappler.com

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