Visit of Saudi “Crown Prince” to USA. What next? – Jun. 24, 2016

Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud, Defence Minister of Saudi Arabia, arrived at the beginning of last week in the US on an official nine-day visit. He is accompanied by a large delegation, including Foreign Minister and a number of Saudi officials. His first meeting was with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

In this meeting which lasted about three hours, the discussions focused on the situation in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya. John Kerry’s first reaction came after the end of the meeting, during the first press conference, in which he declared: “The United States do not have more patience with regard to Russia’s movements in Syria and its support for the Assad regime.”

On the second day of his visit, Prince Mohammad met with US Secretary of Defence and spoke about the cooperation between the two countries in the war against terrorism, particularly in the fight against ISIS. Another important issue discussed was the involvement of Iranians in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Immediately after this meeting, US Secretary of State announced the existence of a confidential document signed by 51 US diplomats, in which they express their disagreement with the policy of the country regarding the war in Syria and call on the US leadership to take military action against the Syrian regime on military units used to kill civilians. Moreover, he told the press that the US administration takes very seriously into consideration this document and that will be studied by the White House.

On the other hand, the reaction of the Russian side, came in two stages:

Political response: The Kremlin announced that the document signed by 51 diplomats violates UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which states that the solution to the Syrian crisis is only political and no move that will increase the length of war is legitimate.

Yet the Russians violate this resolution by daily attacking Syrian civilians. Pictures coming to publicity from the northern part of Syria, particularly Halab (Aleppo), show the immense slaughter taking place by the Russian military machine. Reports by Human Rights Watch and the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said that the Russians are using banned white phosphorus cluster bombs (RBK-500), against civilians and Syrian opposition troops.

Military response: The Russians attacked positions of the military opposition group called New Syrian Army (the group is supported and trained by the Americans, British and Jordanians), which has the sole task of targeting ISIS in the area called Al Tanf near Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian borders.

During this attack, there was involvement of US F-18A that tried to stop the attack of a Russian SU34. In this attack, Russians used cluster bombs and reports talk about 30 combatants dead and over 70 injured.This attack was not the only one. It was the second in a week, but nothing was announced for the first one.

On the third day of his visit, the Prince met with a number of American businessmen and bankers. The focus of these meetings was to make clear on behalf of Saudi Arabia that the economic relations of the Kingdom with the United States is not connected with the political issues, especially after the “blackmail” of Americans on the 28-page survey of the CIA on September 11.

On the fourth day he met with US President Barack Obama behind closed doors. The meeting was short and both sides have not made comments to the press. However, the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir gave a lengthy press conference, during which he strongly emphasized:

  • The dissatisfaction of Saudi Arabia by US moves in the region.
  • The readiness of the Kingdom to send ground troops to Syria upon US request.
  • The constant requirement of Saudi Arabia to establish no-fly zone in Syria.
  • The need for military pressure on the Assad regime to accept a political solution.

Russian answer suddenly came the next day, when the Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu visited Syria, where he inspected the Russian base Al Khmeimim near Latakia, to confirm the readiness of the Russian forces there. Then he met with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus – who appeared surprised for this visit. Russian Minister announced the continuation of Russian support for Assad and his regime, as well as the continuation of the effort to combat terrorism in Syria.

There are two objectives of Prince Mohammad bin Salman US visit. First objective is to improve the tense atmosphere between the Kingdom and the United States, because of Washington’s announcement of its intention to publish the 28-page document containing evidence linking Saudi Arabia with the events of September 11. The second goal is to pressure the US leadership to change its policy in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

The events in Syrian crisis in particular, and generally in the Middle East, are not, in fact, conflict between Russia and the US, in contrast to what is allowed to appear in recent years. If we read the details, we see that the Russians are moving within the limits the Americans allow them. Repeated meetings between Kerry and Lavrov from time to time, are related to the development by a strategy of each one of the parties and its redrawing, depending on the changes that occur.

The most important question is: could Prince Mohammad bin Salman “break” the Kerry-Lavrov table? Let’s wait …