TEHRAN – Afshin Shahi, a lecturer in international relations and Middle East politics at the University of Bradford, says “it is no secret that the U.S.-Saudi relation has gone through a lot of difficulties lately.”
In an interview with the Tehran Times, Shahi says, “Obviously, we know that Washington is not in favor of the Assad regime, but at the same time the U.S. is very anxious about the current Saudi position in Syria.”
He also says, “The U.S. policy towards Syria and the possibility of rapprochement with Tehran have antagonized Riyadh in the real sense of the term.”
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: How much Saudi’s role in spreading terrorism is in line with the U.S. policies in the region?
A: It is no secret that the U.S.-Saudi relation has gone through a lot of difficulties lately and indeed, it is going through a major transition at the moment. The U.S. policy towards Syria and the possibility of rapprochement with Tehran have antagonized Riyadh in the real sense of the term. Saudi Arabia has been transparent enough to display its disappointment with its traditional strategic partner in the region (the U.S.). Obviously, we know that Washington is not in favor of the Assad regime, but at the same time the U.S. is very anxious about the current Saudi position in Syria. Washington cannot tolerate a failed state divided between various Islamist fiefdoms with close proximity to Israel. Hence, Washington cannot afford to endorse the rise of the Saudi funded transnational Jihadi forces within Syria. At the beginning of the conflict the U.S. seemed to be rather indifferent towards the Saudi role in Syria, but as the conflict intensified, Washington started to be more concerned about the role of Saudi founded forces and their possible role in the future in the country.
Q: What will the U.S. reaction be if Pakistan provides the Saudi government with nuclear weapons?
A: This partly depends upon the fate of the current talks between Tehran and 5+1 (group). If Tehran reaches a diplomatic solution with the West, Washington is very unlikely to tolerate a nuclear armed Saudi Arabia. However, an unresolved situation or a nuclear armed Iran can pave the way for a nuclear arms race in the region. In a dangerous situation like this, Saudi Arabia will get away with it even if it faces with an initial cosmetic reaction from Washington. For obvious strategic reasons, the U.S. has no interest in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, if Washington is reassured about Tehran’s nuclear program, other regional players such as Saudi Arabia will have no choice but to think twice about their own nuclear ambitions.
Q: Can Saudi Arabia’s efforts to get closer to Pakistan be seen in the context of the (P)GCC’s inability to act as an effective union in terms of security issues, and the opposition of Qatar and Oman to Saudi domination of the bloc?
A: The Saudi policy to reach out to other regional or trans-regional actors in order to fill its security gaps doesn’t say anything new about the (P)GCC. The (P)GCC never was a coherent and harmonious entity. Although most of the (P)GCC members perceive Tehran as their major security challenge in the region, there is a great deal of competition among them. Even the current cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Syria is overshadowed by clash of interests, mistrust and rivalry between Doha and Riyadh.
Dr. Afshin Shahi is an associate of the Higher Education Academy and a lecturer in International Relations & Middle East Politics at the University of Bradford. He is the author of “The Politics of Truth Management in Saudi Arabia”.