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The King of Saudi Arabia is in Washington to pressurise President Obama to shift his US position on Syria

Already much has been written about HM King Salman bin Abdulaziz's meeting on Friday 4th September with President Barack Obama at the White House. According to media sources they will discuss regional security, including the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached between Iran and world powers over Tehran's controversial nuclear program. The discussions will also focus on issues such as the Syrian crisis, Yemen, and Daesh/ ISIS.


Two issues are of particular concern to the Saudis. The future of the Assad's regime and Iran's destabilizing activities in the region. As for the Obama administration how to fight and defeat Daesh, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) is the most important. To most observers of the Middle East President Obama has adopted the Iranian position lock, stock and barrel. The Tehran funded lobby in Washington and some of Obama's advisors see the Middle East through Iranian eyes. It is doubtful therefore that the visit will mark a major shift in Obama's policies.


This is not the first time King Salman and President Obama meet. In January this year President Obama cut short a visit to India and paid a visit to King Salman on 27th January 2015 following the death of King Abdullah a week earlier. Political analysts had said the two leaders would make use of the meeting to discuss all major regional and international issues including Syria, Yemen and terrorism.


King Salman had met with Obama in Washington in April 2012 when he was crown prince. During that visit, he also held talks with senior American officials on major international issues and ways of strengthening bilateral cooperation. Despite all the meetings there was no breakthrough.


The U.S. recognizes that defeating the Syrian regime and the toppling of Bashar al Assad is an important Saudi strategic objective to protect Saudi regional interests. In a joint article in the Washington Post on October 26th, 2013 Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, wrote:
"What's worse, the administration's failure on Syria is part of a broader collapse of U.S. credibility in the Middle East. As recent reports make clear, Israel and our Gulf Arab partners are losing all confidence in the competence, capability and wisdom of the administration's diplomacy in the region. America's relationship with Saudi Arabia, in particular, is deteriorating rapidly, to the detriment of U.S. national security interests." Their views that Obama is failing the Middle East, and the U.S. interests there are shared by many political observers in the Middle East.

This is exactly the Saudi view of Obama. The Saudis feel that they were being ignored and even betrayed by Obama. The Wall Street Journal reported on October 21st 2013 that Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief told European diplomats that he plans to scale back cooperation with the U.S. Prince Bandar Bin Sultan al-Saud's move increased tensions and widened the rift between the U.S. and one of its closest Arab allies over Syria, Iran and Egypt policies. This came three days after Saudi Arabia's surprise decision on Friday 18th October to turn down a 2 year seat on the United Nations Security Council.


The Saudis still have not received satisfactory answers to a number of questions which were discussed with Secretary of State John Kerry when he visited Saudi Arabia on 3rd November 2013.
-Is it in the U.S. interest that Syria ends up being controlled by Iran?
-Is it in the U.S interest that Moscow and Tehran call the shots in the region and the US stays isolated on the side-lines?
-Why the Obama's red-lines had been crossed by the Syrian regime and nothing had been done about it?
-Why has not the Obama administration failed to honour its pledge to arm the Free Syrian Army with the right weapons?
-In August 2011 President Obama demanded that Bashar al Assad must step down. Why nothing has been done to force Assad to step down?


It was my view then that the USA was not in a position to change its policies in the foreseeable future. It is my view now that nothing dramatic will happen. The Saudis will remain understandably unhappy with President Obama. With that in mind, according to Al-Arabiya Riyadh is unlikely to let up on any military pressure on the Houthis in Yemen until the dust settles between President Obama and his Republican opponents over the high-stakes JCPOA battle in Congress.


From the onset of the Syrian uprising, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council allies sought to back anti-regime resistance fighters as part of an effort to roll back Iran's quest for regional hegemony. However, with the rise of extremist groups, including Daesh, who successfully outmanoeuvred moderate factions, Saudi Arabia was quickly forced to revise its Syria strategy. Next, Riyadh found itself at odds with Washington over President Obama's unwillingness to take military action against President Assad after he had used chemical weapons against his own people.


"Saudi support for Syria is also a matter of principle for the Kingdom, which explains why finding a solution to the conflict may be close to the top of Salman's agenda in Washington".
According to Pro Saudi media "It is therefore likely that Salman will pressure Obama to reassess his Syria policy by arguing that a limited U.S.-military involvement is required to both defeat ISIS on the ground while helping stabilize the country in order to stem the massive migration of Syrians marching towards Europe".


The question whether Obama will shift his position remains to be seen. What is certain is that Obama will continue to pay too much attention to the Tehran-funded lobby in Washington and the pro-Iran advisors in the White House itself. Analyst believe that President Obama does not want to antagonize Iran in Syria by taking any actions against the Assad's regime. Obama's paralysis can be explained in one sentence. He doesn't want to do or say anything that might alienate Iran.

Nehad Ismail is a London based writer

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