clear
Sunday May 24th, 2015 6:58AM

Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere

By The Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.

It may find a solution in France, whose president is ending the year with 24 hours of high-level meetings with the Saudi leadership in a visit intended to showcase commercial and diplomatic strength.

With an entourage of French executives from the lucrative defense and energy sectors, President Francois Hollande arrived Sunday in Riyadh for a flurry of accords and contracts that have been in the works for months. The two countries also find themselves unexpectedly aligned in resistance, if not outright opposition, to U.S. policy on Syria's civil war and Iran's nuclear program.

Hollande highlighted both aspects of the relationship during the visit, underscoring for reporters the number of diplomatic issues that the two countries agree on and noting that trade between the two had doubled in the past 10 years to 8 billion euros ($11 billion) in 2013.

The Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, recently described the policies of some partners toward Iran and Syria as a "dangerous gamble," while calling for the kingdom to be more assertive internationally after decades of operating in diplomatic shadows.

France, with similar fears about Syria, has been one of the strongest backers of the Syrian moderate leadership, and Hollande had pledged military support against Syrian President Bashar Assad until both the United States and Britain backed away. On Iran, the French shouldered their way into the negotiations with Iran, demanding a better deal and warning that the Tehran government needed careful monitoring.

"We cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by," Prince Mohammed wrote in a Dec. 17 opinion piece in The New York Times.

"We expected to be standing shoulder to shoulder with our friends and partners who have previously talked so much about the importance of moral values in foreign policy," he wrote in the piece titled "Saudi Arabia Will Go It Alone."

But it may not have to. The French have been clear that they share Saudi fears that U.S. and Russian concerns over Islamic militants could leave Assad the victor in any peace deal.

Hollande's visit is his second since taking office in May 2012 - a rarity for a French leader outside Europe - and his defense minister has been three times, most recently after the announcement of a 1.1 billion euro ($1.4 billion) contract with the Saudi navy.

During their meeting Sunday, King Abdullah expressed his concern over the situation in both Iran and Syria to Hollande, and he praised what he called France's "courageous" position on these matters, according to a French official familiar with the discussions who would only speak on condition of anonymity in accordance with diplomatic rules.

At a news conference after the meeting, Hollande noted that the two countries' relations had deepened in recent months, in part because of their agreement on the crises in the region, including Syria's civil war and Iran's nuclear program.

"There is an offensive among the Saudis to try to reach out to different partners and try and see if they can find new allies," said Valentina Soria, a security analyst with IHS Jane's. At the same time, she said, Hollande is showing "the kind of willingness to intervene on the international stage in a much more assertive way, a much more convinced way."

In October, Saudi Arabia stunned diplomats when it rejected its first seat on the U.N. Security Council. The Saudi Foreign Ministry blasted the council for an "inability to perform its duties" in stopping the war.

"The problem in Syria today is ... clear negligence on the part of the world, who continue to watch the suffering of the Syrian people without taking steps to stop that suffering," Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal, an influential member of the royal family and a former intelligence chief, said at a conference in Monaco this month.

The Saudis are particularly annoyed that the U.S. and Britain did not follow through with threats to punish Assad's government over the use of chemical weapons. Those decisions caused similar uproar in France for Hollande, who many at home believed was left hanging as the only Western power to pledge military support.

"The Saudi monarchy cannot fathom the fact that Assad might survive this crisis and then turn against them. They reject this possibility and are willing to do what they can to make Assad go," said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Gulf Affairs.

Both countries say they will continue to back the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, in contrast with the Obama administration's hesitation. Unlike the U.S., the French have resisted suspending non-lethal aid to the rebels and show no signs of changing course.

The Syrian conflict, which has claimed more than 120,000 people and spawned a regional refugee crisis, has become in many ways a proxy fight pitting Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Arab states against Shiite powerhouse Iran, a major supporter of Assad.

What the Saudis won't do is send in their own well-equipped armed forces, al-Ahmed said, because it could empower the Saudi military to turn against them as happened elsewhere during the Arab Spring.

The Saudis also watch with trepidation at the warming ties between Iran and the West.

The way the nuclear talks were handled - with U.S. officials secretly meeting their Iranian counterparts before more formal talks involving world powers - particularly rankled the Saudis.

"Saudi Arabia is clamoring for a major role in shaping the region. They feel they deserve that," said Theodore Karasik, a security and political affairs analyst at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

Washington has strived to downplay any suggestion of a rift. Senior American officials have traveled to the Gulf recently to reassure allies, including Saudi Arabia. And Soria, the analyst, said the U.S. partnership, which includes billions in defense contracts, would endure beyond the current tensions.

But a closer Saudi-French relationship could mean more of those lucrative deals go to Paris. On Sunday, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said that Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion to buy weapons from France for the Lebanese army.

At the news conference, Hollande also highlighted several commercial contracts that had been signed throughout the year and said he and King Abdullah talked about other possible areas of cooperation, like nuclear energy.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. and Saudi Arabia "share the same goals" of ending the war in Syria and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but she stopped short of endorsing a Saudi role at the bargaining table with Iran.

Al-Ahmed said Iran would never agree to any talks involving the Saudis, but that wouldn't stop the kingdom from trying.

"The Saudi obsession that they will be sold out to the Iranians in a grand bargain makes them want to be in these meetings to ensure that does not happen," he said.
© Copyright 2015 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Amtrak to suspend some Crescent service in Jan., Feb.
Amtrak service will shut down in parts of the Southeast for several days in January and February for rail maintenance by Norfolk Southern Railway.
9:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Lung cancer scans urged for some smokers, not all
Certain current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans for lung cancer to cut their risk of death from the nation's top cancer killer, government advisers said Monday - even as they stressed that the tests aren't for everyone.
7:26AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
NSA reportedly intercepts computer deliveries
A German magazine has lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacker unit, revealing how American spies intercepted computer deliveries, exploited hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijacked Microsoft's bug report system to spy on their targets.
12:31PM ( 1 year ago )
Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries.
12:26PM ( 1 year ago )
Gun magazine supplier expands in Iowa college town
An Iowa college known for liberal activism is welcoming an unlikely neighbor: one of the nation's largest suppliers of high-capacity ammunition magazines and accessories for assault rifles and other guns.
12:24PM ( 1 year ago )
Politics
US rejects nuclear disarmament document over Israel concerns
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States on Friday blocked a global document aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons, saying Egypt and other states tried to "cynically manipulate" the process by...
9:33PM ( 1 day ago )
Obama again avoids calling 1915 Armenian killings 'genocide'
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to ful...
1:00PM ( 1 month ago )
Ex-NFL star Hernandez convicted of murder, sentenced to life
FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for a deadly late-night shooting, sealing the d...
8:54PM ( 1 month ago )
Clinton kicks off 2016 campaign online, heads next to Iowa
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton jumped back into presidential politics on Sunday, making a much-awaited announcement she will again seek the White House with a promise to serve as the "champi...
7:56PM ( 1 month ago )
Hall, White, Jefferson schools recognized nationally for use of technology
Three school districts in northeast Georgia - Hall, White, and Jefferson - have received national recognition for their use use of innovative technologies. They earned top spots in the Center for Digital Education's and the National School Boards Association's 10th annual Digital School Districts Survey.
By Staff
1:00PM ( 1 month ago )