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May 9, 2002 No.
94

Prince Abdallah's Visit to the U.S.: Saudi Press Perspectives

Abdallah's Peace Plan
Crown Prince Abdallah bin Abd Al-Aziz,[1] Deputy Prime Minister and Commander of the Saudi National Guard, carried his peace initiative to Crawford, Texas, on April 25 after declining to meet with President Bush last year.[2] Most Arabic papers underscored the fact that Abdallah was the third leader, besides President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Tony Blair, to be invited to the Bush ranch. During the first day of the official visit to the U.S., on April 25, Abdallah met at length with Vice-President Dick Cheney and handed him "a peace document" comprising eight points:

1. Complete and immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from recently-occupied West Bank areas. 2. Terminating the military siege on Ramallah. 3. Deployment of an international force. 4. Reconstruction of the infrastructure destroyed by the Israeli incursion. 5. Condemning terrorism from all sides. 6. Restart of political negotiations without prior security conditions. 7. Terminating Israeli settlements. 8. Implementing U.N. Resolution 242 which calls for Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borders.[3]

In response, the White House sent the prince a draft of a proposed joint statement which according to the Saudi London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat made no reference to the Saudi peace proposals. This perceived slight caused the prince to reach a level of anger that "could not have been cooled by the entire New York City Fire Department." The Saudis faxed the White House a draft statement to Secretary of State Colin Powell who, according to this daily, was not in the loop and was not aware of the White House draft. Protesting the draft's content, the Saudis demanded that another statement be drafted jointly or, alternatively, each side would issue its own statement. The White House withdrew its draft.[4]

Bush-Abdallah Meeting
The meeting between President Bush and Prince Abdallah, initially scheduled for two hours, lasted five and included a working luncheon.[5] One story relates that Abdallah presented Bush with an album containing "horror pictures of the results of the Israeli aggression" and that the president was "moved."[6] Prior to the meeting, President Bush asked Secretary Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, to brief Prince Abdallah on the American achievements in its war against terrorism in Afghanistan.[7]

According to the Arab press, the Saudis have underscored three important outcomes of the meeting:

First, the president and the prince have agreed to continue dialogue, consultation, coordination and cooperation in order to reach "a complete package" that would go beyond lifting the siege on Arafat. Second, President Bush has publicly acknowledged "the leadership role played by Prince Abdallah in the region." Third, President Bush refuted rumors about deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and purportedly stated that, "The Congress must recognize that the U.S. has interests in the Middle East which transcend Israel, and we should have good relations with the Saudis, as well as with the Egyptians and the Jordanians. Our foreign policy is designed to meet this objective."[8]

The Saudi papers capitalized heavily on Israel's agreement to lift the siege on Arafat and considered it as one of the most tangibly successful results of Abdallah's discussions with the president.[9]

At no time did the Saudis before, during, and after the meeting with the president, threaten to use the "oil weapon." On the contrary, they squashed any rumors to that effect. In the words of the Saudi Foreign Minster, Prince Sa'ud Al-Faysal, "we did not come with a threatening spirit. We came to explain what happened and to seek a practical solution."[10] In the words of one Saudi daily, Abdallah relied on "a quiet diplomacy, not the diplomacy of screams and yelling which gives opposite results than those desired."[11] Also, there was no reference in the Saudi press to any discussion of the future of American bases in the Saudi Kingdom.

Upon the completion of his meetings in the U.S., Prince Abdallah briefed President Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdallah of Jordan, President Saleh of Yemen and Sheikh Al-Nahyan of the U.A.E. It was left to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., to brief Arafat.[12] President Asad of Syria was not on any of the princes' calling list.

Criticism of the Visit
While the Iraqi and Syrian media largely ignored Abdallah's visit, there was otherwise little direct criticism of it with one rather expected exception: In an article titled "The Saudi Costly Achievement," the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi - generally known to be affiliated with Iraq - expressed concern that Saudi Arabia "has made enormous concessions to achieve modest results" to demonstrate that the meeting at the Crawford ranch was successful.

The eight-point plan submitted by the Saudis, said Al-Quds Al-Arabi, was consistent with prior American and Israeli proposals and has nothing to do with the Saudi initiative submitted to the Arab League summit meeting in Beirut. The Saudi plan did not address full withdrawal [of Israeli forces], the right of return and the removal of settlements. The Saudi officials "have exaggerated in reassuring the American administration that oil would not be used as a weapon and emphasized in their public relations campaign, which cost tens of millions of dollars, the depth of the strategic relations between Washington and Riyadh to sweep clean the Saudi arena of the events of September 11."

The paper concluded that Sharon is the big winner. By relieving Arafat of his predicament, Sharon could demonstrate that "he was a man with a big heart, thirsty for peace."[13]

Conclusion
By most Arab press accounts, the meeting in Crawford went well, particularly for the Saudis. First, there has been an improvement in bilateral relations (re-igniting the historical friendship after it dimmed following September 11).[14] Second, the Saudis have strengthened their position, particularly in the U.S. media.

As for the United States, the meeting with the Saudi Prince has had some positive outcomes as well: First, the United States has mobilized a powerful ally in the peace process. Second, the atmosphere in Crawford had a calming and positive effect on the oil markets. However, the United States has a reason to be disappointed that the Saudis have not changed their position with regard to a possible American campaign in Iraq or the U.S. war against terrorism.

*Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.


[1] Prince Abdallah was born in Riyadh in 1923 as the 13th son of King Abd Al-Aziz Al-Sa’ud. He became the Crown Prince of the Kingdom in the late 1980s, following a serious heart ailment of King Fahd. He is said to have married many times, and among his wives are a Palestinian and a Syrian.

[2] The Washington Post, June 1, 2001.

[3] Al-Watan, April 28, 2002.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, April 28, 2002.

[5] Al-Jazirah, April 27, 2002.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, April 29, 2002.

[7] Al-Safir, April 26, 2002.

[8] Al-Watan, April 30, 2002. See also Okaz, April 29, 2002. and Al-Hayat, April 26 and 28, 2002.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, April 29, 2002.

[10] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, April 28, 2002.

[11] Al-Watan, April 30, 2002.

[12] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, April 29, 2002.

[13] Al-Quds Al-Arabi, April 29, 2002.

[14] Al-Watan, May 4, 2002. The newspaper warns that if "the Zionist lobby" continues to hold the White House in its palm, "the Saudi-American rapprochement and the plans for peace-making in the Middle East will evaporate quickly."