Arab States Plan Summit — Seek Reconciliation with Iraq
A series of incidents in the Middle East in the last few days suggest that something is brewing. First, after the United States repeatedly expressed frustration over Saudi Arabia's announcement that no non-Saudis were involved in the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, and over Riyadh's refusal to release the results of their investigation, the Saudi's are now leaking that there were, in fact, unidentified foreigners involved in the bombing. Agence France-Presse on Thursday, June 25, quoted a Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister as saying the attack on U.S. military housing in Dhahran was "carried out by Saudis, but some other parties helped them in carrying out the explosion." This contradicts statements by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef on May 22, in which he insisted "No foreign party had a role" in the bombing. Prince Nayef's announcement led to increasingly sour relations with the United States over the issue, culminating last Sunday with the report that the FBI had withdrawn its investigators from Saudi Arabia.Iran, which the U.S. suspects of involvement in the bombing, had expressed satisfaction with Prince Nayef's statements. However, reviving the possibility that non-Saudis were involved in the bombing does not necessarily mean that Saudi Arabia is turning on Iran. Riyadh shows every sign of continuing its rapprochement with Tehran, and is reportedly pressing the United States to pursue improved relations with Iran. There are other candidates for the role of "foreign participant" in the Khobar bombing. We could imagine Iraq in particular filling that role, though there have not yet been implications of this from Riyadh or Washington.Iraq was at the center of another curious incident this week. According to Kuwait, during a recent visit to Morocco, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan held a press conference in which he said of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 833, "Legally, it is worthless." Resolution 833 deals with the demarcation of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. In a memorandum submitted to the Arab League Secretary General and published on June 23 in the Egyptian newspaper "Al Ahram," Iraq's permanent representative to the Arab League, Dr. Nabil Najm, vehemently denied the Kuwaiti allegations, calling them baseless. Najm stated that Ramadan had touched on the border issue in general, and had noted that it was the first time the UNSC had passed a resolution on the demarcation of borders between two countries, but he denied that Ramadan had ever challenged the legality of the resolution. Najm said that "the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister's misrepresentation of the statements made by the Vice-President was a deliberate and suspicious distortion of the facts, aimed at fomenting incitement and hostility against Iraq."Kuwait has subsequently delivered a purported recording of Ramadan's news conference to the current head of the UN Security Council, with a letter declaring that the tape "proves beyond any doubt" that Ramadan questioned the UN's demarcation of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. In the letter, Kuwait's Ambassador to the UN, Muhammad Abu al-Hassan, wrote, "I stress once again the seriousness of this statement, which reveals the hostile intentions of Iraqi officials towards Kuwait, their contempt of Security Council resolutions and international legality, and their attempt to circumvent the relevant Security Council resolutions and shirk the legal commitments stipulated by these resolutions." After submitting the letter and recording, Abu al-Hasan told Kuwait's Kuna news agency that the tape "stands as clear evidence of the nature of this regime which is in the habit of lying, deceiving and making light of the good intentions of the Security Council member states." He continued, "What Ramadan says concerns in fact not only the borders with Kuwait but also all of Iraq's commitments, and this is a serious matter."Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday, June 23, called on Iraq to honor Resolution 833, the principles of the Arab League, and regional security agreements, to show its good will toward neighboring states. Speaking at the opening of the eighth meeting of the Saudi- Egyptian Joint Committee for Bilateral Cooperation, Al-Faisal said Ramadan's statement on border demarcation "is regrettable, and indicates Baghdad's continuous policy of deception." Saudi Arabia was joined on Wednesday by Egypt in again calling on Iraq to respect UNSC Resolution 833. The two countries' foreign ministers also reiterated their support for Iraqi independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.Two other diplomatic initiatives of note, which may or may not play into the incidents mentioned above, also occurred in Saudi Arabia this week. The Saudi-Egyptian meeting took place as Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi was in Jeddah (on Tuesday) and Riyadh (on Wednesday), discussing methods of tackling the oil price crisis with Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Crown Prince Abdullah, and Saudi King Fahd. And Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara reportedly flew to Riyadh on Wednesday to discuss the deadlocked Middle East peace process with his Saudi and Egyptian counterparts. We note that, in what again may be only a coincidental event, Egypt's Defense Minister on Sunday joined in the Syrian-Iranian call for an "Arab NATO." For a more complete analysis of that incident see http://www.stratfor.com/services/gintel/region/stories/062498.html. Finally, we note that this was the week that prospects for UN certification of Iraqi disarmament took a turn for the worse, when UN inspectors claimed to have found nerve gas residue on destroyed Iraqi warheads.The coincidences are stacking up in a way that does not look good for Iraq. The UN has reversed what looked like rapid progress toward freeing Iraq from sanctions. Kuwait has presented evidence of an alleged Iraqi challenge to the UN's demarcation of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have joined in condemnation of Iraqi belligerence. Egypt has added its support to a Syrian-Iranian initiative aimed at dealing with regional crises, including the situation in Iraq, without US or other extra-regional involvement. Syria suddenly joined in Egyptian-Saudi talks on regional crises. And Saudi Arabia, while maintaining downright amiable relations with Iran and discussing Iranian alternative plans to address the oil price crisis, has revived the idea that some foreign party was involved in the Khobar Towers bombing. Oh, and finally note that Kuwait entered the OPEC talks stating that the markets needed "a shock" before they would recover, regardless of efforts to cut oil production. He was evidently correct, as the markets responded with what amounted to a collective yawn to the announcement of the latest round of production cuts.