Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Perhaps the first development of note, which took place recently and, which did not, dear reader receive the coverage that it should, was the surprise resignation of the Saudi Arabian Ambassador, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, last week, after only fifteen months on the job. Previously, His Excellency's other postings have included the embassy in London, and, being head of the Saudi security and intelligence services of many years. According to Agence France Presse, the sudden departure of Prince Turki, had official Washington swirling with rumors ranging from that he was being replaced due to bureacratic (Ruling Family actually) backstabbing, to that he was being groomed to replace his ailing brother, as foreign minister. Other sources claimed that his resignation was an attempt by Rihyad to emphasize to Washington that the Kingdom was seriously concerned about the chaotic situation in Iraq, and that if American policy failed to seriously consider the interests of the Sunni majority in the entire region, then the Kingdom would take steps to distance itself from Washington (see the ariticle in last Wednesday's AFP in www.afp.com). However according to a press conference by the Saudi Foreign Minister in Rihyad held today, none of the above reasons are accurate in the least. According to Prince Saudi Al-Faisal, the reason for the resignation of his brother was merely the fact that he wanted to: "it was purely a personal decision". In addition, the foreign minister made clear that far from being interested in actively intervening in Iraq's civil war, on the side of the Sunni minority, the Kingdom:

"Stands at an equal distance from all factions in Iraq....

Since the beginning of the crisis in Iraq and the formation of the government ... the kingdom has been saying that it stands at an equal distance from all Iraqi factions....We do not pose as guardians of one faction or sect....

We cooperate with anyone who wants [to preserve] the unity ... and independence of Iraq,....

We hope Iraqi citizens will be treated equally before the law in terms of rights and duties"
(in www.dailystar.com.lb).

If nothing else, these comments throw into doubt, as I and others have made clear, that Saudi Arabia, in contrast with its past history, would intervene overtly in a conflict among its neighbors.

The second development of note, was the extension and the rejection of a peace offering by Assad fils, this Friday just past. In an interview in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the Syrian leader offered to open talks with Israel without preconditions and, indeed, offered the same to the USA over Iraq (see the full text of the translated interview in Professor Joshua Landis's www.syriacomment.com). Within days of this diplomatic demarche, the Israeli Prime Minister, Omert, issued a complete non possumus, stating that: "we do not have the impression that there is a basis for opening negotiations with Syria". A stand which it would appear reflects fear that Washington will overtly oppose any moves by Tel Aviv to open a separate dialogue with the regime in Damascus. Perhaps a sign that this is in fact the case, were the statement pro-offered by visiting British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that:

"if Syria makes a choice to be constructive for peace, to support democratic governments, not undermine them, then we remain open, of course, to being constructive with them."

"But if ... they are supporting people engaged in terrorism or supporting the undermining of a democratically elected government, in this case the [Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora government in Lebanon," he added, "it's not us refusing to have anything to do with them, it's that the principles by which we are acting are transgressed"
(see: www.dailystar.com.lb).

Insofar as whatever else one may think of Damascus, it can and does play the role of spoiler, tremendously well, in the Levant, and elsewhere in the region, the American-Israeli-British 'non' to Assad fils, offer leaves much to be desired. Especially, with all the other troubles affecting the West in the region, needlessly ignoring or rejecting Syria's offers of talks, talks mind you without pre-conditions, seems scarcely reasonable. Indeed shows an almost complete lack of diplomatic reason altogether...

A final diplomatic development was the re-opening of six power talks in Peking dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue. This is the first time that talks have resumed, in well over a year, and, the first since Pyongyang's nuclear pseudo-test this fall. While the re-opening of the talks were a major victory for PRC diplomacy, it does not appear that any real progress is expected soon on the impasse between the USA and Japan on the one side, and North Korea on the other. With Pyongyang adamant that the USA scale-down or even halt, its financial measures which have substantially hurt the miniscule, but important North Korean foreign 'trade' (read: money laundering, smuggling and conterfeiting). The real issues are: whether or not, Japan and the USA can increase pressure that South Korea and China will decide that a nuclear North Korea is more of a danger, if that results in a Nuclear armed Japan, than not. It could be argued, that in the absence of a consistent and firm South Korean stance on the issue, that the USA and Japan, should in effect, wash their hands of South Korea, withdraw American troops, and, fall back on George Kennan's old idea of 1949, of making Japan (via its possession of nuclear weapons) the bulwark of American power in the region. Indeed, it may be that the only thing that the PRC fears more than a collapse of North Korea, is a nuclear armed Japan firmly tied to the American camp. And, while any settlement of the North Korean crisis will call for intelligent American concessions, it is doubtful that unless the PRC and South Korea fears something more than the collapse of the regime in Pyongyang, than nothing of substance will come of the talks (see some interesting essays in two online journals dealing with East Asian Affairs, on the North Korean crisis: Nautilus & China Security in www.nautilus.org & www.wsichina.org).


At 11:13 PM, Blogger GT said...

re Turki al-Faisal, the Saudis seem very scared about the Shiites taking power in Iraq. Their intelligence recently had a report leaked saying that Iran was backing the Shiites, forming a "state within a state". I've never heard of the Saudis leaking anything before, so this seems intentional. Is this a signal that if the US doesn't do anything about this, they will? Turki's resignation also comes right after his firing of a consultant who said that the Saudis would back the Sunnis against the Shiites if necessary, and also right after the Saudi royals' playdate with Cheney. I'm not sure what's going on in the desert kingdom, but their neighborhood is getting a lot more dangerous. And rich people don't deal well with bad neighborhoods.

re syria, I don't think Asad fils' recent overtures showed a lack of diplomatic reason. One part of it is that Asad is still a little worried that he might get invaded. The other thing to keep in mind is that two days earlier he met with Senator Bill Nelson and has plans to meet with several other senators (also on SyriaComment). Asad is probably hearing that Syria can ingratiate itself to the new Democratic congress by helping the US in Iraq and negotiating with Israel. Asad has been eager to join the US camp for a long time, and this new Congress appears to be his chance.

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