Saudi perception of U.S. inaction in Syria strains historically close relations
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GWEN IFILL: Now to the Middle East and an emerging split between the United States and its long-time ally Saudi Arabia.
Jeffrey Brown reports.
JEFFREY BROWN: The apparent rift became public late last week, following a vote in the United Nations that elected Saudi Arabia to the Security Council, the seat the Saudis had long coveted.
Then came the stunning response on state television.
MAN (through interpreter): The kingdom has no other option but to turn down Security Council membership until it is reformed and given the means to accomplish its duties and assume its responsibilities in preserving the world’s peace and security.
JEFFREY BROWN: Today’s Wall Street Journal reported it’s part of a broader message. The account said the head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Bandar, a former Saudi envoy to Washington, is trying to distance the kingdom from the U.S.
It cited Saudi anger at a perceived lack of support for Syrian rebels and the U.S. decision not to attack after the Assad regime’s apparent use of chemical weapons.
Secretary of State John Kerry responded in London at a meeting of nations backing the Syrian opposition.
SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: We know that the Saudis were obviously disappointed that the strike didn’t take place and have questions about some of the other things that may be happening in the region.
JEFFREY BROWN: Kerry also acknowledged Saudi concerns about American diplomacy with Iran on the nuclear issue, plus Washington’s earlier support for the now-deposed Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, and the U.S. role in the Arab/Israeli peace process.
JOHN KERRY: I will tell you that, on Egypt, both of our countries want to see a successful return to an inclusive democratic government with progress on the interim government’s specified road map.
On the Middle East peace, Saudi Arabia has been a critical partner. Just yesterday, we reaffirmed the Saudi commitment to the Arab — the Saudi commitment to its own initiative, a very significant initiative. In addition, Saudi Arabia and the United States share with almost every other country in the region deep concern about Iran’s nuclear program and its impact on the region. And we had a very frank conversation yesterday about that. I think they understand exactly what the United States is engaged in.
JEFFREY BROWN: For their part, the Saudis had no official comment today on the state of the relationship.