(CNSNews.com) – A senior Saudi prince has responded sharply to reported questioning by President Obama about the kingdom’s value as an ally, and in a scathing attack derided the administration’s policies from supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt to engaging Iran.
Turki al-Faisal, who served as Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief from 1977-2001, and as ambassador to the United States from 2005-2006, pulled few punches in an open letter in Arab News Monday, accusing Obama among other things of breaking a pledge to Riyadh to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.
Turki was evidently reacting to a lengthy article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic on “The Obama Doctrine,” which among other things highlighted Obama’s lukewarm opinion about Saudi Arabia.
“He is clearly irritated that foreign-policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally,” Goldberg wrote of the president.
On the regional arch-rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, Obama said although he has never felt the U.S. should throw the Saudis “overboard in favor of Iran,” he also believes the Saudis need to “share” the region with the Iranians.
“The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians – which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen – requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace,” he said.
Obama in the article also characterized unnamed European and Gulf allies as “free riders,” referring in particular to the situation in Libya in early 2011, when he said allies wanted against Muammar Gaddafi but showed “an unwillingness to put any skin in the game.”
“No, Mr. Obama,” Turki fired back in the open letter. “We are not ‘free riders.’”
He then listed Saudi actions including intelligence-sharing with the U.S. to prevent terror attacks in America; its role in the establishment of the coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) and its recent offer of boots on the ground to fight ISIS in Syria; its formation of a coalition fighting the Shi’ite Houthi rebels trying to control Yemen; and its contributions to humanitarian relief for refugees from Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Turki was especially critical of Obama’s outreach to Iran, implying that he has betrayed Saudi Arabia in the process.
He recalled that when Obama met with King Salman last fall, Obama had noted Saudi Arabia’s “leadership role in the Arab and Islamic world” and the two leaders had reaffirmed the “need, in particular, to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities.”
“Now, you throw us a curve ball,” Turki wrote. “You accuse us of fomenting sectarian strife in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. You add insult to injury by telling us to share our world with Iran, a country that you describe as a supporter of terrorism and which you promised our king to counter its ‘destabilizing activities.’”
“Could it be that you are petulant about the kingdom’s efforts to support the Egyptian people when they rose against the Muslim Brothers’ government and you supported it?” he asked. “Or is it the late King Abdullah’s (God rest his soul) bang on the table when he last met you and told you, ‘No more red lines, Mr. President’?”
(He was apparently referring to Obama’s decision not to go ahead with a punitive attack on the Assad regime after it crossed his declared “red line” by using chemical weapons against his people in 2013.)
Turki continued: “Or is it because you have pivoted to Iran so much that you equate the kingdom’s 80 years of constant friendship with America to an Iranian leadership that continues to describe America as the biggest enemy, that continues to arm, fund and support sectarian militias in the Arab and Muslim world, that continues to harbor and host al-Qaeda leaders, that continues to prevent the election of a Lebanese president through Hezbollah, which is identified by your government as a terrorist organization, that continues to kill the Syrian Arab people in league with Bashar Assad?”
The outspoken Saudi prince ended his letter by implicitly drawing a distinction between Obama and the American people.
“We will continue to hold the American people as our ally and don’t forget that when the chips were down, and George Herbert Walker Bush sent American soldiers to repel with our troops Saddam’s aggression against Kuwait, soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder with soldiers,” Turki wrote. “Mr. Obama, that is who we are.”
Turki, the youngest son of the late King Faisal and brother of the late Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, holds no official positions in the Saudi government but is regarded as an influential member of the ruling elite.
Early last year convicted 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui claimed in federal court testimony given in his Colorado prison cell that senior Saudi royals were implicated in the al-Qaeda attacks, and reportedly named Turki among them.
The Saudi Embassy at the time denied the allegations, calling Moussaoui “a deranged criminal.”