Saudi Ambassador’s Abrupt Departure from DC

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 Post version is buttressed by the recent Saudi denial that they have any intention to ship weapons into Iraq. And the academic who wrote that article, Nawaf Obaid, got fired.

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?

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8 Responses to Saudi Ambassador’s Abrupt Departure from DC

  1. Aya says:

    There are few theories circulating in the blogosphere about Al-Faisal’s departure. Some Saudis are saying that he is certainly heading for the Foreign Minister post. I think that in a matter of days more will be revealed about the reasons behind the resignation.

  2. BroD says:

    But don’t you have the Iran/Saudi sectarian associations backwards?

  3. Michael says:

    Yes. Dyslexia rules KO.

  4. Phill says:

    You have your sh’ia and sunnis the wrong way round.

    The issue that nobody seems to have considered is how stable Saud is should Iraq blow into full scale civil war. There is a longstanding set of grievances there.

    The US readjustment of its position is simply a realization that they cannot invade Iran without the straits of Hormuz being closed for a very long time.

    If the US can come to some agreement with Iran they have a ready supply of labor, a place that they can train the new Iraqi army in safety and they shorten their supply routes.

    The Iranians are Sh’ia but their interest is to have the region calm down, not have it ignite further. So the Sunnis may end up dominated but they probably do better under the Iranian settlement than under the current regime.

    The big loser in all this is Israel of course which is essentially the point the Iranians are making with their neo-NAZI conference. These people are not nuts, they are just making a very good job of appearing to be nuts, it is in their strategic interest to do so.

  5. phil says:

    This is certainly looking like the ‘legacy’ that Bush deserves. Too bad about all the INNOCENT victims.

  6. BroD says:

    Ambiguous as it is, this development highlights the precariousness of the regional situation we created by barging into Iraq. I’m an advocate of withdrawal but I understand the associated dangers. To make matters worse, there’s no reason to expect that our depature would be any more intelligently managed than the invasion and occupation.

  7. anon says:

    All the more reason the next President of the United States must be Mr. Barak Hussein Obama and his book should be required reading in all government schools.

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