U.S. President Obama, set to land in Saudi Arabia this week in a historic visit, will face harsh critics, veteran American diplomat Dennis Ross warned.
Ross argued that Saudi is wary of the commitment from the United States to take meaningful steps to help in the current crises with Iran, Syria and Egypt.
“Fundamentally, the Saudis believe that America's friends and interests are under threat, and the U.S. response has ranged from indifference to accommodation,” Ross wrote in the Los Angeles Times Monday, adding that, “rarely have the Saudis been more skeptical about the United States.”
The veteran diplomat wrote that Saudis view Iran’s enrichment ambitions as a step for it to gain hegemony in the region. While the United States is eager to engage the Islamic republic over its nuclear program, Saudi leaders feel it is at the expense of allowing other “troublemaking” behavior, Ross explained.
“[Saudi leaders] see the Iranians using the nuclear program negotiations to buy time, and fear that the U.S. is so anxious to do a deal and avoid conflict with Iran that it refuses to compete with the Iranians in the region or to back U.S. friends as they do so,” Ross wrote.
Saudi Arabia’s concerns over U.S. foreign policy also extend to its handling of the crisis in Egypt and dealing with the military-backed government in fighting the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization which the kingdom and the UAE have labeled a terrorist group.
Ross specifically pointed to the withholding of helicopters from the Egyptian military as a point of contention.
Calling the move “inexplicable to Saudis,” the diplomat wrote the immobility “leads them to question whether the U.S. defines its interests in the region in a way that is compatible with Saudi Arabia’s.”
Saudi Arabia already voiced its opposition to the U.S. inaction in the Syrian crisis when it turned down in October a seat on the U.N. Security Council in display of anger at the failure to end the war in Syria.
Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief at the time said the kingdom was looking at making a “major shift” in relations with the United States.
In November, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulazizi met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and discussed concerns about the unwillingness of the United State to intervene in Syria despite Obama’s “red line.”
Ross, however, argued that despite the recent contentious relationship, Saudi Arabia will not turn its back from the United States, knowing full well that it is an integral part of protecting the kingdom from external threats.
Despite its loyalty, Saudi Arabia can still find alternative ways to get its point across.
“Nonetheless, the Saudis' disquiet can lead them to pursue policies that are destructive to U.S. interests — and theirs.”
The White House announced in a statement last month that President Obama will travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah “as part of regulation consultations between our two countries.” Obama is expected to arrive in Riyadh on Thursday.
“The president looks forward to discussing with King Abdullah the enduring and strategic ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia as well as ongoing cooperation to advance a range of common,” the White House said.