Kerry Gulf visit: shift in US regional policy?

Analysis: American policy is to support the Muslim Brotherhood as a "moderate" group to block the more radical Salafists.

March 6, 2013 01:53
3 minute read.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) shakes hands with Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo

Kerry and Morsi 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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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.

While they 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 community.

“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 York Times.

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 containment policy.

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” going forward.

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.

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