US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to the Gulf this week signals that the
US government may be shifting toward their position on key issues in the region.
Strong Gulf support for Syria’s Sunni opposition and the worry about Iran’s
nuclear program were reinforced by Kerry on his visit to Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday
and Saudi Arabia on Monday.
In Doha he said the US was confident that
arms were going to “the right people and to the moderate Syrian opposition
coalition,” according to Reuters.
By “moderate,” Kerry must have been
referring to the opposition that is not affiliated with jihadist groups such as
the al-Qaida-backed al-Nusra Front. However, this shows that other members of the
Islamist-dominated opposition are seen as “moderate” by the US, despite the fact
that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists do not share US values or
long-term interests according to analysts.
This follows the
administration’s view of the Brotherhood regime in Egypt, which it views in a
similar fashion – a bulwark against more radical Islamists.
may not share al-Qaida’s ideology, the main common interest is the removal of
Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.
Prof. Barry Rubin, the director
of the GLORIA Center and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, wrote in his Rubin
Reports blog that “US policy is to support the Brotherhood as a ‘moderate’ group
to block the even more radical Salafists.” He goes on to say that this policy is
flawed because the Brotherhood itself is radical.
In regard to Iran,
Kerry said in a Monday meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal that time was running out for Iran to cooperate with the international
“Talks will not go on for the sake of talks, and talks cannot
become an instrument for delay that in the end make the situation more
dangerous. So there is a finite amount of time,” he said, according to The New
This comes as an apparent US shift, as President Barack Obama
previously had been cold to any significant intervention in the Syrian war and
the appointment of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was seen by analysts as a
sign that he would not act militarily against Iran, but move towards a
Iranian Press TV echoed this apparent shift with the
headline, “Kerry Continues Tradition of Appeasing Saudis.” The article stated,
“This constant show of respect to the Saudi monarchy is a travesty, since Saudi
Arabia is a famously repressive theocracy, with an almost complete lack of
rights for its people.”
Ignoring the fact that this perfectly describes
the Iranian regime itself, the comment has some truth since the US did not
publicize any criticism of Saudi foreign or domestic policy involving
minorities, women or human rights.
Brandon Friedman, a researcher at Tel
Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies,
told the Post that he agrees with this assessment, saying that the Americans and
Saudis are not completely comfortable with each other, but that the absence of
mentioning these issues may just “be part of the texture of the relationship”
Friedman thinks that while there are a lot of tensions in
the relationship, there are more similarities in their stances on Iran than on
the Syrian crisis. “Fundamentally, I think the Saudis are probably not sure
where Obama stands and that drives a lot of their interactions with American
officials and their public comments.”
He goes on to add that Obama seems
to be making an effort to have a better relationship with the Saudis in his
second term. “The Saudis wanted to talk to Kerry about Syria first and
foremost,” notes Friedman.