Though much attention has been given in the media to Israel’s great unhappiness with the Iran deal that the Americans are close to concluding in Vienna, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are also most unhappy with the revived deal. A report on how they have expressed their alarm and displeasure is here: “Saudi Arabia, UAE leaders not returning Biden’s calls, disappointed with US – report,” by Tal Spungin, Jerusalem Post, March 9, 2022:
The leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been declining calls from US President Joe Biden for several weeks, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing officials in the Middle East and the United States.
They prefer not to engage in any kind of telephone dialogue where they would have to listen to Joe Biden try to convince them to do the world a favor and greatly increase their oil production, when what they want to talk about is something else: they believe that the revived Iran deal is misconceived and dangerous. It’s easier to refuse to take Biden’s calls, a telling snub that signals their great unhappiness with Washington.
The messages of dissatisfaction sent by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Emirati Shiekh [sic] Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan come as the two leaders share concerns over the American response to recent missile and drone strikes from Yemen, claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
In January, the Houthis targeted civilian sites in the UAE with a combination of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and drones. They killed several people. The American response to this attack? Nothing. And the Houthis keep targeting Saudi airbases and oil installations as well. The American response to those attacks? Again, nothing. In fact, in January 2021, Biden lifted the designation of “terrorist organization” from the Houthis, and despite their record of attacking civilians and civilian structures in two countries with which we are allied, he still has not reimposed either that designation or the sanctions that go with it.
The two nations are also reportedly disappointed with the state of negotiations in the ever-nearing Iran nuclear deal, according to the WSJ.
The deal, which IAEA chief Rafael Grossi called “very complex,” does not account for Saudi and Emirati security interests, they claimed.
For more than a year Biden, Blinken, and Sullivan have been promising that they were going to “lengthen and strengthen” the revived Iran deal. They would make sure that Iran’s ballistic missile program would be addressed, and so would Iran’s regional aggression, carried out through a network of proxies and allies, including the Houthis in Yemen, the Shi’a militia Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Now we know that the deal being finalized in Vienna says nothing about ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads, or about Iranian aggression through proxies in the region, especially — as far as the Emirates and Saudi Arabia are concerned – the attacks on them launched by the Houthis in Yemen.
The US has been pushing to repair its relations with the two nations as it looks to stifle an oil crisis. Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports on Tuesday as gas prices reached an all-time high globally.
Biden now desperately needs to bring down the skyrocketing price of gasoline at the pump – that is, if he wants his party to have a chance to prevail in the 2022 Congressional elections and he to be reelected in 2024. He needs to persuade the UAE and Saudi Arabia to greatly increase their oil production. They want from him only this — that he reimpose on the Houthis the designation “terrorist organization” and the sanctions that go with it, and that there be included in the revived Iran deal a system of sanctions to be imposed on Iran if it continues to support the Houthis and Hezbollah. Can Biden refuse them this request, at a time when the price of oil rises precipitously and there is no end in sight to Putin’s war? He needs them to pump more oil, and right away.
“There was some expectation of a phone call [between Biden and MBS], but it didn’t happen,” an American source told WSJ, adding that the call was intended to focus on “turning on the spigot [of Saudi oil].“
In addition, support from the Middle Eastern oil giants is increasingly important to the US in order to create a united front against Russia due to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Saudi Arabia has long been disappointed with its reportedly deteriorating relationship with the US since Biden was sworn in, according to the report. Along with more support in Yemen, the Saudis are reportedly seeking assistance with their own civilian nuclear program, in addition to clarification on the legal position of MBS in the US due to lawsuits filed over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi Arabia wants the U.S. to take its side against the Houthis in Yemen, instead of criticizing the Kingdom for indiscriminate bombing causing civilian deaths in Yemen. The Crown Prince is also incensed that the Bidenites clearly believe he is responsible for the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; he would like the Americans to make clear that MBS will not be pursued for that killing in American courts, now that the “real killers” have been tried and convicted in Saudi courts. Finally, the Saudis would like American help with their civilian nuclear program.
What if, in Vienna, the Americans were at this point to unexpectedly announce that the revived deal must include new sanctions on Iran if it continues to support attacks on civilians by the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon? Outrage from the Iranians, but the Americans – having sent Rob Malley packing and brought back to replace him the three negotiators who quit in February in protest at his concessions – will stick to their guns, for they know from Blinken that otherwise the UAE and Saudi Arabia won’t be turning the oil spigot on at full blast, as Biden so desperately needs. And the Iranians won’t budge either; “no more concessions” they will proclaim, as they pack their bags and head home to Tehran. Thus we would have a complete breakdown in the talks, and no revived Iran deal after all. Could the Russian invasion of Ukraine have led, by the most roundabout of ways, to saving the day in the Middle East, by causing that “bad, terrible” deal to be abandoned at the last moment after all?