Key issues for US-Saudi talks
Author: Arab NewsTue, 2018-03-20 05:55ID: 1521504150020653200
• A hawkish White House and the Saudi administration are likely to see eye-to-eye on bringing more pressure to bear on Tehran. The 2015 Iran nuclear deal needs to be signed off by Donald Trump in mid-April if it is to remain active. In January, the last time a US renewal was due, Trump kept the deal alive. The recent dismissal of Rex Tillerson from his position as Secretary of State means he may be closer to terminating it.
• Washington, which has a major military base in Qatar, wants to see the feud brought to a resolution. The US wants to see a united GCC front against Iran and, while critical of many Qatari actions, does not agree with the Saudi and Emirati view that Doha is taking an intolerably belligerent stance in the region.
• President Trump has called it “the ultimate deal” and would like to claim a big foreign policy success. He may feel compelled to make an announcement, but Saudi Arabia will certainly advise him against doing so. Riyadh has stressed there can be no deal without Palestinian approval, and Trump has been assiduously ignoring the Palestinians, and refusing to put pressure on the Israelis. The US decision to shift its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem angered Arab countries and Saudi Arabia may look for assurances that the next move will be more subtle.
Saudi nuclear ambitions
• The US wants Saudi Arabia to buy American technology for its proposed nuclear energy program, but also wants Saudi to hit stringent guidelines designed to prevent nuclear weapons development, including prohibitions on uranium mining enrichment. Saudi Arabia, with potentially lucrative uranium deposits, wants to keep its options open and may look to other nuclear nations, including Russia for reactor purchases. Riyadh has also said it will develop nuclear weapons if Iran does.
• The US wants an initial public offering of Saudi Aramco to happen on the New York Stock Exchange, and is always keen to sell weapons to Riyadh. Saudi Arabia is keen to assure would-be foreign investors that property rights have not been undermined by the anti-corruption drive. Riyadh also is also looking for ways to encourage economic entrepreneurship at home, for investment opportunities in the high-tech sector.
• The US and Saudi Arabia have long been close allies, with close institutional ties in areas such as defense and intelligence-sharing. But a relatively new US administration and a new Saudi administration need to sound each other out in terms of the satellite personnel around the two leaders, who will be critical players in implementing policies.
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