Perhaps there will be some light at the end of the tunnel if the Sudanese government finally agrees to the deployment of a joint U.N.-African Union force in Sudan’s western Darfur region. The agreement would help put an end to violence in Darfur. However, Saudi Arabia will definitely lay claim to success of the recent diplomatic efforts if a compromise is at last arrived at. It is Saudi Arabia that persuaded Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir to act more compliantly with regard to the demands of the international community.
More importantly, the announced breakthrough in the Darfur crisis would be yet another success of Saudi Arabia, which has managed to make quite a few diplomatic achievements over the last three months. Saudi diplomats reactivated peacemaking process in Lebanon and brokered the start of U.S.-Iran talks. The Saudis also helped to cut a deal on a long-elusive unity government between Hamas and Fatah, and put forth new proposals aimed at resolving a variety of problems built up around the Palestinian state.
These days Saudi Arabia is apparently making pretensions to the role of a regional leader. Saudi Arabia seems to have clear-cut ambitions to become a champion of the Arabs. The Saudis are trying hard to play the role of a true representative and defender of the interests of the entire Muslim world. Some experts believe that Saudi diplomats have been simply forced to step up their efforts in order to catch up with the recent developments of the world politics. The Middle East has become one of main sources of world news (which are invariable bad) in the last five years. It is understood that Saudi Arabia cannot turn a blind eye to the longstanding dispute over Jerusalem, a holy city for the Muslims. Likewise, Saudi Arabia cannot watch passively the war in Iraq and persecutions of the Sunnis in that country. It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia cannot but take part in the debate about the Western and Muslim values. Saudi Arabia is also concerned about instability at the world’s oil markets and the Shi‘ah Iran’s ambitions.
It would be wrong to assume that Saudi Arabia is merely addressing present-day political challenges. It is clear that the rulers of the world’s top oil-producing country have certain ambitions. Those ambitions seem to be taking shape when it comes to recent developments in the Saudi-U.S. relations. The United States has been a steadfast ally of Saudi Arabia for decades. Earlier this month Saudi King Abdullah called the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq an “illegal foreign occupation.”
It appears that Washington has been waiting for official clarification (or an apology) from the Saudi government ever since. The U.S. is making every effort to keep a lid on its barely concealed outrage caused by the king’s comments. In their turn, the Saudi diplomats are making public statements spiced with a good pinch of cynicism. The Saudis say that their highly esteemed monarch was in the right when choosing the words for his comments. They also make statements to remind the Americans that Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer, is America’s main ally in the Arab world, and therefore nothing can ruin the friendship between the two countries. U.S. Department of State has been utterly baffled by the controversy. No official U.S. reaction has been made available yet. The media could only cite the State Department officials who agreed to speak “on the condition of anonymity.”
A number of influential people within the U.S. Administration and expert community have already expressed their doubts about Saudi Arabia being America’s true ally. It seems that an increasingly large number of Americans will share the opinion in the near future.
It is most likely that Iraq will be the litmus test for Saudi Arabia and its growing influence in the region in terms of foreign policy. The gap between Saudi Arabia and the United States is widening when it comes to goals and objectives both countries strive to achieve in Iraq.
It is quite worthwhile speculating on possible changes in the Saudi foreign policy to be caused by the continued standoff over the Shi‘ah Iran’s nuclear program. Many experts stress the point that the challenge posed by the military nuclear program of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Arab Sunni countries is even greater than that relating to Israel’s nuclear weapons.
Translated by Guerman Grachev