NEO – Washington Massages Riyadh and Tehran

Hagel visits Riyadh
Hagel visits Riyadh

Washington Massages Riyadh and Tehran

Emerging Twists in Saudi-Iran Relations and US Geopolitics

 … by  Salman Rafi Sheikh,      … with  New Eastern Outlook, Moscow


The seven golden domes of St. Petersburg
The seven golden domes of St. Petersburg

[ Editor’s note:  The outreach moves made by Iran to its long-hostile Persian Gulf neighbors appeared to come out of nowhere, but such things never do. The progressing P5+1 nuclear talks, when Obama showed he could take all the torpedoes that AIPAC could hit him with and still keep sailing… the Saudis took their cue.

Obama’s trip to see the King ended without any real statement which was read, as the King and the President (happy Birthday! Mr President) remained at loggerheads, with the Saudis having long been entrenched with their counterproductive plans to try to dominate the region with money, US military power, and the Israelis when needed. 

I predict their dalliance into the large-formation terror destabilization game will eventually be their undoing.

But, as Salman lays out for us below, the “staff changes” made after the Obama visit was the report on what had taken place. The key anti-Iran Saudi hardliners were replaced, including the Bush-era powerhouse Prince Bandar, who was also key to running the Saudi terror operations on Syria’s northern flank, when the sock puppet Syrian National Council showed itself to be nothing more than that.

This is one hell of a big game, à la Rudyard Kipling, with diplomatic openings being made while parties are openly engaged in major terrorism destabilization operations. Especially now in Iraq, we see this week the Kurds learned that taking oil resource territory from Iraq but then hanging onto it when ISIS preferred to be the owner were two different things.

The Kurds got a taste of “easy come, easy go”, and the go part may just be starting. Our VT crisis teams still see the ISIS being supported by major country intelligence support, including satellite recon, where the list of  satellite recon providers is a short one. I am sure you can figure it out.

As I have written here many times and will continue to do so, this “little problem” of unabated state-sponsored terrorism is the biggest national security threat that all countries face. It is now the push button template for regime overthrow on the cheap, as the current Jihadis have been taught how to become self-funded by taking over cash-generating resources in their initial attacks.

"We have met the ISIS...and they are us!"
“We have met the ISIS…and they are us!”

And while the Russians, who despite all the slaughter and baiting going on in East Ukraine, are getting hit with more and more sanctions, when they are making no aggressive moves, the ISIS seems to have no problem selling its oil to Turkey, a NATO member, as if by magic.

Yet, even to my hard-boiled astonishment, there has been no rage in the West for its support of the ISIS terrorists. This will get worse before it gets better.

And it will never end, as this dirty game is creating an ever-increasing pool of hired killers, all very reasonably priced, and a lot of buyers who can afford them. This gruesome work is a cornerstone of US foreign policy now.

Congress seems to love it, and I see no turning it back without a major revolution in this country, which I don’t see a defeated people doing any time soon. The longer it takes to do, the less chance of success, as the elites are getting their hooks into us very deeply, and are more than ready to give us the East Ukraine and Gaza treatment when the time comes.

Mark my words, when “they” feel it is necessary, they will start killing us, too. Actually they already have on 9-11, which the nuclear lab people who designed the bombs feel really bad about, as they had assumed they would be used on a foreign enemy some day. At least they regret what they did…  Jim W. Dean ]



–  First published  July 27, 2014  –


1991 Gulf War, US troops in Saudi Arabia
1991 Gulf War, US troops in Saudi Arabia

Nowhere do geopolitical upheavals take place so surprisingly as in the Middle East, and nowhere do ‘enemies’ become ‘friends’ overnight and vice versa.

No wonder, the Middle East is the most volatile region in the world not only in terms of the deeply immersed conflicts but also in terms of the rapidity with which relations between states undergo changes.

We can have a glimpse of the peculiar nature of the Middle Eastern geopolitical landscape through the prism of Saudi-Iran relations, which have undergone some serious twists over the last few months. Developments at regional and global level have pushed both states towards amending their otherwise fractured relations.

A look at some of the recent contacts made at diplomatic level show the ‘seriousness’ on part of both states to amend their relations. For example, following a meeting between the Saudi ambassador to Tehran and former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in April, publicized largely due to controversy regarding reciprocal kisses on the forehead, reports surfaced in May that Rafsanjani was actually spearheading an effort to improve relations.

Such efforts, so say the reports, have been given the nod of approval from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and involve a plan to discuss less complicated issues first. The meeting was followed by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud bin Faisal’s May 13 statement, in which he stated that his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, could visit Riyadh “anytime he sees fit.”

The increased warmth being observed between the two states is, however, not the result of any dramatic convergence of interests, but the result of the US’ new grand strategy for the Middle East. In other words, twist in the Saudi-Iran relations is an effect of the US’ geopolitical maneuverings, rather than an independent policy decision taken by any of the two states.

According to a June 2, 2014 report of Arab News, a high official in the Obama administration is encouraging, as a part of US official policy, both Iran and Saudia to mend their relations. It has also been expressed that the US is actually using overt and covert pressure on both states. As such, for Iran the US is playing the ‘nuclear card’; and for Saudia, the US is playing the ‘Iran card’.

Hagel's recent visit to Saudi Arabia
Hagel’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia

That the US is deeply involved in bringing this twist can be gauged from the fact that last month, the US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Saudi Arabia in a quest to establish a détente between Iran and the KSA.

Hagel got his cue from earlier remarks made by Iran’s President Rouhani, suggesting that Iran does intend to improve its ties with Saudi Arabia.

It is important to take into account that the US has been at the helm of introducing significant changes in Saudi Arabia’s establishment, and some of the most anti-Iranian elements have either been removed or are going to be removed in a bid to pave the way for rapprochement.

According to some reports, as also according to Iranian official Press TV, Saudi King Abdullah removed Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief, primarily because of his opposition to improving relations with Iran on behalf of Obama administration.

The fact of his opposition becomes apparent when we take into account that he had also been Saudi ambassador to the US and was known to have had close ties with former US President George W. Bush, and that he was also an advocate of the US’ invasion of Iraq in 2003.

However, the Obama administration’s geopolitical maneuvering, that now includes reversing G.W. Bush’s policy towards the Middle East, had put the former intelligence chief in an awkward position vis-à-vis the US and his own State.

Following the same tide, it is expected that the person now going to be removed is the current Saudi foreign minister. The reason for his removal is his hawkish stance towards Iran. In an interview with The New York Times in 2009, he is stated to have said that Iran must never be allowed to develop a nuclear program of any sort whatsoever.

811 miles from Riyadh to Tehran
811 miles from Riyadh to Tehran

The fact that Saudi Arabia has been compelled to reverse its position in accordance with the geopolitical scenario dramatically changing as a result of the US-Iran deal, however fragile it might be, is indicative of the relative positions of both Iran and Saudia under the current circumstances.

Clearly, Iranian diplomacy has outmaneuvered the Saudis in their bid to establish Sunni hegemony in the Middle East. As a matter of fact, the Saudi rulers were fuming at the success of Iranian diplomacy in successfully extricating themselves from the sanction quagmire, which has greatly normalized Iran’s international relations and enhanced the IRI’s regional prowess.

An additional factor that seems to have played a pivotal role in forcing both the US and Saudia to change policy towards Iran is their failure at regime change in Syria. Syria, which was supposed to provide ‘the road to Iran’ for the US and Saudia, has turned out to be a game-changer in the Middle East, leading to significant breakthroughs.

Along these lines, Saudi Arabia is most likely to understand that a failure to improve relations with Iran would be closing a door at a time when it prefers to keep all of them open.

While it cannot be ruled out that both sides recognize that the regional situation, particularly in Syria, is becoming untenable, at this point Iran holds the higher position. With ongoing talks regarding a permanent agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 in the background, along with increasing visits by Western business delegations to the country, Saudi Arabia sees Iran’s re-emergence as a regional and economic power as the most likely, rather than a mere potential, possibility.

To keep its options open, the Saudis have come to the realization that they might even have to cooperate with Iran in the future, as far as a settlement of the crisis in Syria is concerned.

But the important question that needs to be answered is: why is the US bringing the two erstwhile ‘enemy’ states together? Is it a part of the US’ policy of redesigning the entire landscape of the Middle East and making its own hegemony more deeply entrenched?

In other words, this strategy by the US seems to be perfect when linked with the “Asia Pivot.” If major targets of the “Asia Pivot” are China and Russia, then control over the entire Middle East is of immense significance for the US—hence, Saudia-Iran rapprochement. This control would enable the US to manipulate the world’s largest energy producer, and thereby, global economy.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, may not have realized it when he put all the eggs in the Israeli-Palestinian peace basket that no bilateral relationship in the Middle East is more consequential and important for the region’s future and the US interests than the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

But the US cannot achieve this objective easily, given the peculiar nature of Saudi-Iran relations and the general political landscape of the Middle East. The US seems to have oversimplified the situation for its own convenience. Intricacies of Saudi-Iran relations are not built solely around the Syrian issue.

These two regional powers are on opposite sides on virtually every single issue. Primarily, both are vying for power and influence in the Persian Gulf. In Syria, Iran supports the Assad regime and Hezbollah, while the Saudis support the Sunni rebels in Syria and the anti-Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

In the Palestinian territories, the Saudis support Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, and the Two-State solution, while the Iranians back Hamas and reject the Two-State solution.

Prince Sultan Gate
Prince Sultan Gate

And in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is an Iranian ally, while the Saudis support the Sunni rebels/fighters. They are also in competition within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

In addition to these conflicting interests, there are the ethnic (Arab versus Persian) and sectarian (Sunni Saudi Arabia versus Shiite Iran) differences, which are likely to leave deep imprints on and deflect any attempt at rapprochement.

It is for this reason that it would be extremely naïve and an oversimplification of the ground realities if we contemplate a complete normalization of relations between both states, especially when reports of a Saudi-Israeli, anti-Iran alliance have also come to light.

The fact that both Saudia and Iran have been and are working to sabotage each others’ ambitions is sufficient evidence of the historically deep animosity between them. Although it is difficult to categorically conclude that rapprochement cannot take place at all, impediments are too formidable to be overcome by a mere exchange of ministers.

The US’ role must also not be simplified as a mere mediator. She has her own interests to pursue; and, the more the Middle East remains divided, the more the US and its allies stand to achieve both politically and economically. Politically, an internally hostile Middle East would allow the West to play off countries like Saudia and Iran against one another; and economically, this hostility would allow them to buy cheap oil, as well as sell them costly weapons.

Additionally, a divided Middle East means more room for the US to place more troops in the region and exert more influence on the regional states in order to manipulate their foreign as well as domestic policies and priorities. Divide and rule is the classic stratagem that has still not escaped the Western political and military sense.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


Editing:  Jim W. Dean  and  Erica P. Wissinger




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