Yesterday’s Washington Post features At White House, Obama and Saudi king discuss Guantanamo, Mideast peace process by Ann Kornblut. The article features a number of interesting paragraphs:
Broaching a sensitive subject, President Obama assured the visiting king of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday that he remains committed to closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a continuing source of friction between their governments.
Fewer than 20 Saudis remain at Guantanamo Bay, but the prison is a symbol of George W. Bush-era detention policies and is unpopular in the Arab world.
With the Middle East peace process at an impasse, officials did not report breaking any new ground ahead of a meeting next Tuesday between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Israeli moves over the last year and a half, including the building of settlements, have been a source of unhappiness for Saudi and other Arab leaders.
Why does it seem like an American newspaper is acting in the place of Saudi Arabia’s public affairs office?
Why should it be important for Washington Post readers to know what’s important to Saudi Arabia?
Americans have a negative view of Saudi Arabia (58% unfavorable; 35% favorable), so Kornblut is providing a valuable service to the monarchy.
She also quotes a former Washington Post Middle East bureau chief, Thomas Lippman, who she classifies as an expert on Saudi Arabia. He is more than that. He is an expert quoted extensively at the Saudi-US relations website, meaning that he’s a Saudi approved expert on the kingdom, hardly someone who is disinterested. (An AIPAC expert would be described as working at the “pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC,” Lippman gets a pass here.)
And then there’s this:
A year after a reportedly rocky first meeting in Riyadh, Obama and King Abdullah held a brief, joint appearance before reporters in the Oval Office following lunch.
This has a quality of “Other than *that* Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” “[R]eportedly rocky?” In the run up to his famous Cairo speech to reach out to the Arab world, President Obama asked that the Arab world consider making a gesture to Israel. The response was, “no.”:
On his Middle East tour, Mr. Obama is expected to press the Arab nations to offer a gesture to the Israelis to entice them to accelerate the peace process.
But in his meetings with the Saudi king, he should be prepared for a polite but firm refusal, Saudi officials and political experts say. The Arab countries, they say, believe they have already made their best offer and that it is now up to Israel to make a gesture, perhaps by dismantling settlements in the West Bank or committing to a two-state solution.
“What do you expect the Arabs to give without getting anything in advance, if Israel is still hesitating to accept the idea of two states in itself?” said Mohammad Abdullah al-Zulfa, a historian and member of the Saudi Shura Council, which serves as an advisory panel in place of a parliament.
While not dismissing the possibility of some movement on the peace process, the Saudis say the Arab world made substantial concessions in the Arab Peace Initiative, which was endorsed by a 22-nation coalition during an Arab League summit in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2002. That proposal offered full recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawing to its 1967 borders and agreeing to a “just settlement” to the issue of the Palestinian refugees.
The Saudis are concerned about the potential threat to the coalition should one nation make further concessions on its own. That, they say, could provide the less committed countries a rationale for abandoning the peace initiative, according to officials and regional analysts.
“Rocky” then means that the Saudi king rebuffed the President’s ambitious initiative. Maybe “disastrous” would have been a better modifier.
Finally, left out of the article was King Abdullah’s warm up act:
The Saudi monarch, who met Tuesday Barack Obama in the White House, did not mince his words the recent trip by the French Minister of Defense HervÃ© Morin to Jeddah. “There are two countries in the world who do not deserve to exist: Iran and Israel,” said King Abdullah, on June 5.
This diatribe against the two designated enemies of Arabia has been confirmed by two French sources, diplomatic and military, in Paris. It is unclear what the reaction of the Minister of Defence was, – he was surrounded by a handful of diplomats and high-ranking officers in the audience with the king, culminating a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia.
In the early 1980′s investigative reporter Steven Emerson was looking into undue influence of foreign governments on American policy. The resulting book, The American House of Saud documented how Saudi wealth bought connections and influence in Washington. Unfortunately that influence is on display not just in the corporate and diplomatic spheres, but in academia and pretty clearly in journalism too.
Crossposted on Soccer Dad.