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The Big Picture – U.S. President’s Visit to Saudi: Takeaways for the World

  • June 5, 2017
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The Big Picture- RSTV
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U.S. President’s Visit to Saudi: Takeaways for the World

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TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

Ties between the two countries go back to the end of the Second World War and the relationship has evolved over the decades. Trump’s choice of heading to Riyadh first marks a new era of relationship between U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, was looking for an opportunity to again claim its space in the Islamic world. Saudi attempt to garner regional support in all these years was falling flat whether it was Pakistan, Turkey or Egypt. So Riyadh was eager to reset relations with the new US administration after feeling shunned by President Barack Obama, who crafted the 2015 nuclear deal with their Shiite rival Iran. The kingdom is also embarking on plans to diversify its economy away from oil—including the sale of a stake in Aramco—after crude prices slumped by half over the past three years. President Trump’s visit to the nation brought in the opportunity for Saudi Arabia to reclaim its power in Middle East.

Key takeaways

Defence Cooperation:

  • A $100 billion deal has been signed for Saudi Arabia to buy American arms.
  • S. agreed to a defence cooperation deal with the Saudis, pledging $110 billion effective immediately and up to $350 billion over 10 years, as well as some private sector agreements. The military package includes tanks, combat ships, missile defence systems, radar and communications, and cybersecurity technology.
  • The administration said the deals would bring hundreds of thousands of jobs to the US.
  • Business was the main focus of the summit.

Change in rhetoric:

  • President Trump said US would not prescribe to others what they should do how they should live indicating that there will be no criticism of the Gulf countries for the kind of governments that they have or their human rights record which is a turn-around as most of the U.S. governments earlier had been critical about violation of human rights in Gulf nations.
    Making Saudi Arabia, a Muslim majority country, his first stop overseas Mr. Trump seeme abandoning some of the harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric of his presidential campaign

A U-turn in Iran-US relationship:

  • Iran’s newly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani rightly called relations with the United States “a curvy road”. Trump’s criticism of the nuclear deal Iran reached with the US and five other world powers in 2015 pleases both Saudi Arabia and Israel, who accused Obama on “going soft” on Tehran.
  • Washington’s alliance with the mainly Sunni Muslim countries of the Arab world against Shi’ite Iran is decades old. But in practice the US has had to improvise in recent years when choosing its friends in a more complex Middle East, where enemies can appear on either side of the sectarian divide. Obama’s outreach to Tehran reflected that reality. But those subtleties were cast aside when the President Trump pledged a hard-line stance on Iran.
  • The Republican Party traditionally was unhappy or uncomfortable with the so-called Obama opening to Iran and they felt that too much was given away to Iran so to that extent President Trump was also appeasing that particular sentiment within the United States.

Strategic regional calculus:

  • The message from Mr. Trump’s Saudi visit is clear: His administration will re-endorse Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, as a key pillar of America’s West Asia policy and ignore criticism of Riyadh’s human rights violations at home and interventions abroad. Mr. Trump has urged that the countries in the Middle East should create a coalition to fight terrorism emanating from Iran and has even talked of the Iranian people being waiting for the day when they will have the regime that they deserve hinting regime change.
  • Slightly disappointing it seemed as if Mr. Trump was again pandering whip to what one might call as the sunni bloc. With nuclear deal it seemed that Iran was reaching out and Iran’s own domestic politics was moving towards a more quote-unquote moderate kind of orientation. But with a hardline stance against Iran shown by President Trump the Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict will only deepen

What it means for India?

President Trump mentioned India amongst nations there are victims of terror and that is a welcome step, however the list of nations was a laundry list.

Sanctions on Iranian economy, if imposed by U.S. could be detrimental for India. As during the sanctions under Obama era it was China who took the advantage by carrying on the business with Iran while India’s trade with Iran went a downhill.

President Trump gave fighting terror a very very religious context. He spoke that if all Abrahamic faiths (kitabi religions) were to come together there will be peace in the world and he was referring very specifically to Christianity Islam and Judaism, this reference is certainly not helpful particularly for a multi-religious country like India.

By putting a religious flavor to this uniting of the world means we are working into troubling territory over. The comments about Iran take on not just religious sort of differentiation but also sectarian differentiations.

Overlooking the Saudi Pakistani role as far as the ideology of terror is concerned and the sectarian dimension being added is disturbing turn of events for India.

Conclusion

The major cause of instability in West Asia is not just Iran, as Mr. Trump mentioned in his speech, but the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. If US wants to be peacemaker and make West Asia a more secure place, he has to reach out to both sides and appeal to them to dial down the tensions that have already spilled into Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. Instead, he appears to have taken sides. The Saudi petro- dollar muscle is hard to resist for an American President desperate to create more jobs at home. But merely supplying weapons to Riyadh and its allies will not bring peace to West Asia, or help defeat terrorism.

“Furthering more enmity with Iran, rather than seeking common ground and interests at a time when Iran is ready to reach out diplomatically on the region’s long-term problems, is going to work against the long term aim of a peaceful and stable Middle East.

All the indicators point to a further arms race in the region and on the rhetorical level we are on a path of escalation. It just need a small trigger that can escalate the situation on the ground.

Connecting the dots:

  • Discuss the way U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship has evolved in recent times. Elaborate how bonhomie between the two nations at the cost of sidelining Iran can result into escalation of Middle East sectarian conflict. Also outline concerns for India, if any.

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