When I saw the headline Saudi Ambassador Abruptly Resigns, Leaves Washington, I jumped to a conclusion. But maybe it’s wrong.
Here’s the Washington Post’s summary of the facts,
Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, flew out of Washington yesterday after informing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and his staff that he would be leaving the post after only 15 months on the job, according to U.S. officials and foreign envoys. There has been no formal announcement from the kingdom.
And here’s the Post’s speculation as to the reason,
The exit — without the fanfare, parties and tributes that normally accompany a leading envoy’s departure, much less a public statement — comes as his brother, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the highly influential Saudi foreign minister, is ailing.
As Saud’s health has declined, Turki has increasingly been rumored as a possible replacement for his older brother.
That is certainly a more benign explanation than the thought that jumped into my head. I was afraid that it has something to do with the Bush administration’s looming decision to tilt towards the Shi’ites (and Kurds) in the Iraq civil war, and against the Sunni groups seen by the US as supporting the “insurgents”. [Corrected.] And, indeed, a seemingly authoritative Saudi academic suggested that the Saudi Arabians were bankrolling the Sunnis, and would be ramping up their support to include weapons if the US were to tilt towards the Shi’ites.
The Saudis are not our friends. But we don’t need them angry, either.
[Update (12/13): In addition to correcting the above, I’ve now seen the Wednesday NY Times, which has a front page article disagreeing with the Post version of the analysis on Saudi motives and plans, Saudis Say They Might Back Sunnis if U.S. Leaves Iraq:
Saudi Arabia has told the Bush administration that it might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulls its troops out of Iraq, according to American and Arab diplomats.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said.
Arab diplomats said Tuesday that Mr. Obaid’s column reflected the view of the Saudi government, which has made clear its opposition to an American pullout from Iraq.
So, who knows, maybe my first impression was correct after all?