Doha, Oct. 22 (Reuters): Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief has said the kingdom will make a “major shift” in relations with the US in protest at its perceived inaction over the Syria war and its overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said today.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that Washington had failed to act effectively on the Syria crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.
It was not immediately clear if Prince Bandar’s reported statements had the full backing of King Abdullah.
“The shift away from the US is a major one,” the source close to Saudi policy said. “Saudi doesn’t want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.”
The US and Saudi Arabia have been allies since the kingdom was declared in 1932, giving Riyadh a powerful military protector and Washington secure oil supplies. The prince’s initiative follows a surprise Saudi decision on Friday to reject a coveted two-year term on the UN Security Council in protest at “double standards” at the UN.
Prince Bandar, who was Saudi ambassador to Washington for 22 years, is seen as a foreign policy hawk, especially on Iran. The Sunni kingdom’s rivalry with Shia Iran, an ally of Syria, has amplified sectarian tensions across West Asia.
A son of the late defence minister and crown prince, Prince Sultan, and a protege of the late King Fahd, he fell from favour with King Abdullah after clashing on foreign policy in 2005.
But he was called in from the cold last year with a mandate to bring down President Bashar al-Assad, diplomats in the Gulf say. Over the past year he has led Saudi efforts to bring arms and other aid to Syrian rebels while his cousin, foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, worked the diplomatic corridors.
The UN Security Council has been paralysed over the 31-month-old Syria conflict, with permanent members Russia and China repeatedly blocking measures to condemn Assad.
Saudi Arabia backs Assad’s mostly Sunni rebel foes. The Syrian leader, whose Alawite sect is derived from Shia Islam, has support from Iran and the armed Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah. The Syrian leader denounces the insurgents as al Qaida-linked groups backed by Sunni-ruled states.
In Bahrain, home of the US Fifth Fleet, a simmering pro-democracy revolt by its Shia majority has prompted calls by some in Washington for US ships to base elsewhere. Western policymakers say Bahrain’s hosting of a US naval base makes it a key ally in keeping open the Strait of Hormuz.