Bloomberg: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will try to defuse tensions with Iran at an Arab summit in Riyadh today, seeking to counter instability and growing Iranian influence in the region. By Glen Carey and Tarek Al-Issawi
March 28 (Bloomberg) — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will try to defuse tensions with Iran at an Arab summit in Riyadh today, seeking to counter instability and growing Iranian influence in the region.
The two-day summit will pitch Saudi Arabia’s vision of a more secure Middle East, being pursued by national security chief Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdelaziz al-Saud, against Iran’s anti- Western policies, currently highlighted by its detention of 15 British sailors and marines and a refusal to bow to United Nations demands to halt its uranium-enrichment program.
Iranian support for Shiite militias operating in Iraq and Lebanon is intensifying hostilities between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Iran is allied to Syria in supporting the Shiite Hezbollah militia that provoked a monthlong war with Israel last year.
Saudi Arabia “would like to be able to defuse the growing tension between Iran and the southern Gulf states and to determine whether Iran can be seen at least as a relatively stable country,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in an interview from Washington. Saudi Arabia “certainly wants to avoid any conflict between Sunni and Shiite, any division within Islam,” he added.
Lebanon is sending two delegations to Riyadh; pro-Western Prime Minister Fouad Siniora will lead one and pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud the other. A total of 22 leaders will attend the talks, at which Iran, which is not an Arab country, won’t be represented.
The Saudi government is seeking to halt the spread of existing conflicts afflicting the Islamic world. The country brokered talks earlier this year that resulted in the formation of a Palestinian national-unity government.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer and biggest Middle Eastern economy, has noticeably strengthened its diplomatic efforts in the region since Prince Bandar, an ambassador to the U.S. for more than 20 years and a close ally of President George W. Bush, returned to Riyadh in July 2005.
“Bandar is the Arab Kissinger,” said Mahdi Abdul Hadi from the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, an independent think-tank. “For the Saudis, there are personal interests related to their friendship with the Bush family and relations with the United States generally.”
Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are working more closely on regional politics, signaling an improvement in relations that deteriorated following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in which 15 Saudis were involved.
Rapprochement With U.S.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have all visited the kingdom over the past six months.
Saudi officials, led by Bandar, want to “reconnect with the U.S., to have greater influence over Bush’s policy, while at the same time engaging Iran,” said Rochdi Younsi, a Saudi Arabian analyst for the New York-based Eurasia Group. “They realize that they will have to live with that emerging power next door.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited King Abdullah on March 3.
Saudi Arabia is trying to “work with the Iranians on all sorts of regional issues, especially the Palestinian and Lebanese crises,” Younsi said. “In a nutshell, they are trying to avoid any U.S. military strike against Iran, while at the same time advocating a strict containment of Tehran.”