FPI Resources on the Riyadh Summit

April 21, 2016

President Obama’s meeting today with the heads of Washington’s Arab Gulf allies comes at a critical juncture in his relationship with the region. Mr. Obama, traveling with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, will seek to reassure the Gulf Cooperation Council of America’s commitment to its security.  This effort follows a year in which tensions between the United States and its regional allies peaked in the wake of disagreements over Iran policy, the handling of the civil war in Syria, and the management of the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh). Mr. Obama recently described a chilly view of U.S.-Saudi relations, eliciting a sharp response from an influential member of the House of Saud.

The Foreign Policy Initiative is closely monitoring the President’s visit, and believes the following resources will be helpful as policymakers and lawmakers examine how to rebuild America’s flagging alliances in the Middle East.

FPI Resources

FPI Bulletin: Saudi Arabia and the Syrian Civil War – FPI Staff – Foreign Policy Initiative – April 15, 2016

“While Riyadh and Washington are nominal partners in the effort to resolve the Syrian civil war, there is divergence between the allies on the tolerance for Islamists in Syria and the necessity of removing Assad. When President Obama and Secretary Carter visit Riyadh, they should press Saudi Arabia to refrain from supporting Syrian opposition groups linked to Jabhat al-Nusra, as the al-Qaeda group poses a serious long-term threat to both countries and the entire region. Meanwhile, the United States should learn from Saudi resolve to oust Assad, a step that remains an essential requirement for lasting peace in Syria.”

FPI Bulletin: Saudi Arabia and Terror Financing – FPI Staff – Foreign Policy Initiative – February 24, 2016

“So as long as Saudi Arabia senses that the United States is seeking rapprochement with Tehran, it may resist pressure to more aggressively assist with Washington’s global counterterrorism efforts. While maintaining pressure on Riyadh to fight terrorist financing, the United States can also work to reassure Saudi Arabia that we will not ignore Iran’s regional aggression. Steps for doing so would include firm responses to such Iranian provocations as ballistic missile launches, as well as renewing Washington’s faltering commitment to the ouster of Bashar al-Assad, Tehran’s most important client in the region.”

Other Resources

The Long Divorce – Simon Henderson – Foreign Policy – April 19, 2016

“Although the upcoming visit is being touted as an effort in alliance-building, it will just as likely highlight how far Washington and Riyadh have drifted apart in the past eight years. For Obama, the key issue in the Middle East is the fight against the Islamic State: He wants to be able to continue to operate with the cover of a broad Islamic coalition, of which Saudi Arabia is a prominent member. For the House of Saud, the issue is Iran. For them, last year's nuclear deal does not block Iran's nascent nuclear status -- instead, it confirms it. Worse than that, Washington sees Iran as a potential ally in the fight against the Islamic State.”

Obama’s Rendezvous in Riyadh – Editorial – Wall Street Journal – April 19, 2016

“It won’t burnish Mr. Obama’s legacy to leave his successor a Middle East of emboldened enemies and distrustful allies. The U.S.-Saudi alliance is nobody’s idea of a marriage of like minds, much less of moral values. But Washington has a vital interest in making sure the oil-rich kingdom doesn’t become another failed Arab state, or an aggressive freelancer pursuing interests at odds with America’s.”

The State of Saudi-U.S. Relations – Max Boot – Commentary – April 19, 2016

“We should press the Saudis to liberalize, so as to make possible an eventual transition to a constitutional monarchy. In the meantime, we can’t simply abandon them out of spite or out of unrealistic hopes that Iran will suddenly shed its ‘Death to America’ mantra.”

An Awkward Silence in Riyadh – Ray Takeyh – Politico – April 19, 2016

“On the surface, Obama's summit with the Gulf rulers will generate its share of declarations of friendship. An arms sales package is likely to follow, as some of the most militarized and militarily incompetent states in the world will want to add to their arsenal. Yet no talk of historical alliances and arms sales can bridge the clash of perspectives between the two sides.”

A Preview of Obama’s Trip to Saudi Arabia – Symposium – American Enterprise Institute – April 18, 2016

“While Riyadh eventually supported the Iran deal, albeit reluctantly, Washington’s relations with the Sunni kingdom remain strained. The president’s retreat from the decade-old alliance with Saudi Arabia in favor of a diplomatic thaw with its chief rival in the region, the Shiite regime in Tehran, has been cause for concern not only in Riyadh, but also among Washington’s other Sunni Arab allies. What can the president hope to achieve while in Riyadh?”

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