Saudi King’s Visit to Obama: Price of Peace and Price of Oil
U.S. President Barack Obama faces a tough diplomatic test Tuesday when he hosts Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who wants to see more action and fewer words for a new Arab state in place of Israel’s post-1967 borders. Iran and the price of oil also are on the agenda.
The Arab world has increasingly expressed disappointment with President Obama since his “reaching out to Muslims” speech in Cairo a year ago. "The king wants to have from Obama the assurance that he is going to solve the [Middle East peace] issue," according to Khaled Al-Maeena, editor of the Saudi daily Arab News and a member of the king's delegation who was quoted by Reuters.
Last year, President Obama visited the oil kingdom and caused an uproar in the United States and Israel by bowing to the monarch, whose visit to Tuesday is his first to an American president since 2002, when as Crown Prince he met George W. Bush at his Texas ranch.
The monarch then was the personal emissary of the kingdom and almost walked out of the meeting, according to an American official in attendance, because of the lack of readiness of Bush and then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to give carte blanche acceptance of the Saudi 2002 peace initiative. The Arab world has insisted on an “all or nothing” reply to the plan, which would require Israel to accept a divided Jerusalem as well as approximately 5 million foreign Arabs claiming ancestry in the Jewish State.
President Obama’s visit to King Abdullah last year also was not a royal success. The President suggested that the king allow Israeli aircraft to fly over Saudi air space, a proposal that was outrightly rejected.
With solid support from the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world not to make any concessions in the Saudi 2002 proposal, King Abdullah comes to Washington armed with the country’s huge oil reserves.
Saudi Arabia's increased oil sales to China this year might have been a factor that influenced Beijing to back new United Nations sanctions against Iran, and the United States – and Israel – might have to pay the price. “Arab leaders often request U.S. action on the Palestinian front in return for support on other issues,” Reuters reported Monday.
It quoted a Washington think tank researcher that President Obama might ask Saudi Arabia to increase oil production in order to lower prices and thereby hurting Iran’s income from its oil exports. Although Saudi Arabia and the United States share a common concern of Iran’s development of nuclear capability, King Abdullah might insist that President Obama press Israel to accept his plan in return for hiking oil production.
Regardless of the pleasantries that are normally transmitted at White House meetings, veteran journalist Thomas Lippmann thinks that there will no “game-changing agreements.” The former Washington Post correspondent, writing for The Race for Iran, said that the Saudis are disappointed with President Obama’s lack of follow-up on his promises in his Cairo speech.
“The dissatisfaction was reflected in a stinging speech delivered to an audience of diplomats and journalists by Prince Turki Al Faisal, former ambassador to the United States,” Lippmann wrote. He said that Faisal charged that the United States has forfeited the "moral high ground" in the Middle East through "negligence, ignorance and arrogance."
On Iran, Lippmann wrote, “The Saudis are like the Americans in that they know what they want but do not know how to achieve it. They want the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraq, stop supporting extremist groups and, most important, stop enriching uranium. They do not believe the latest round of economic sanctions will deter Iran, but they oppose military action by the United States -- or, worse yet, Israel -- to halt the nuclear program.”