June 28, 2010 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 619

Saudi Press: Iran's Diplomacy Has Failed

June 28, 2010 | By R. Green
Saudi Arabia, Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 619

Saudi Arabia greeted the U.N. Security Council's most recent round of sanctions against Tehran with a certain degree of satisfaction. Saudi analysts opined that the sanctions were a sign of the failure of Iranian diplomacy; some went so far as to suggest that the sanctions marked the beginning of the end of the current regime.

The Saudis stress that they seek to upset the regime, not harm the Iranian people. Likewise, they reiterate their position that Iran's nuclear dossier must not be addressed exclusively, but as part of an overall plan for nuclear disarmament in the Middle East.

Their satisfaction over the sanctions notwithstanding, the Saudis are also concerned over what to expect when the U.S. pulls out of the region and Iran achieves nuclear capability. It should be noted that during the Security Council's deliberations over the past few months, Saudi Arabia has considerably toughened its stance vis-à-vis Iran.

Following are excerpts from statements by Saudi officials and articles on this topic in the Saudi press:

Senior Saudi Officials Express Concerns over Iranian Threat

At a press conference following his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal reiterated Saudi Arabia's traditional position in support of the diplomatic efforts of the 5+1 and of a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. Al-Faisal emphasized, as Saudi statesmen always have emphasized, that the solution to this crisis must be part of a comprehensive plan for Middle East nuclear and WMD disarmament, especially for Israel.[1] However, at the same press conference he also took an assertive stance against Iran, saying that its disregard of the superpowers' proposals was increasing the threats to the region.

Al-Faisal said that history shows that any type of weapon introduced into the region has ultimately been used, and that the permanent members of the Security Council must therefore understand the threat that the proliferation of nuclear weapons poses in the Middle East. He said that gradual, long-term sanctions were not effective, and that a swift and immediate solution was needed. He specifically emphasized the role of China and its responsibility in the matter. Among reports on Al-Faisal's statements, the Saudi daily Al-Watan's stood out for reminding China – the country most reluctant to support the sanctions – of its dependence on Saudi oil.[2]

As the Security Council neared a decision, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence head and Saudi ambassador to the U.S., seconded the foreign minister's assertive stance, calling on the superpowers to establish a nuclear umbrella for the Gulf countries and to offer a military option for dealing with the Iranian threat. He presented three principles that he said should guide the international community from now on: "First, no one can demand that Iran play according to certain [rules], while Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are allowed to play by different [rules]. [Everyone] should be playing on the same field. Second, a global nuclear umbrella must be established for the countries of the region [i.e. the Gulf countries] that justifiably feel threatened by their neighbors who already have or are going to have nuclear weapons [i.e. Israel and Iran, respectively]. Third, there is a need for a high-quality military option in order to deter any element that refuses to cooperate in ridding the region of the danger of nuclear weapons, and in order for the [nuclear disarmament] effort to bear fruit. The military option and the nuclear umbrella must be jointly agreed upon by the five permanent members of the Security Council."[3]

It should be noted that most of the Saudi press neglected to cite these statements by Turki Al-Faisal, which were made at an event in honor of the English language Saudi daily Arab News, in the presence of many foreign diplomats, for whom these statements were intended. At a later occasion, Al-Faisal warned that if Iran achieved nuclear capability there would be no turning back, and its threat to the Arab world would increase. Therefore, he said, the Arabs must prevent Iran by any means from obtaining nuclear weapons. He also reiterated his criticism of the U.S. for not doing enough to disarm the Middle East of nuclear weapons, and called upon the Arab countries to pressure the Security Council members to advance this goal.[4]

Al-Madina Expresses a Hard-Line Stance: Sanctions Are Inevitable

Among the official Saudi newspapers, the daily Al-Madina exhibited the firmest stance against Iran. Following the signing of the Tehran Nuclear Declaration – an Iranian uranium exchange deal with Turkey and Brazil – the daily printed a series of editorials presenting the agreement as an Iranian ruse. Al-Madina said that if Iran did not comply with the demands of the international community, it would certainly face sanctions and the military option would remain on the table: "...It is obvious that, in light of the developments in Iran's nuclear [dossier], the military alternative against Iran still exists, at least for the time being. According to analysts, even though the Security Council has deferred the imposition of severe sanctions against Iran, due to Russia and China's withdrawing [their support for the sanctions] and the U.N.'s acceptance of the Tehran Nuclear Declaration, there will ultimately be no choice but to impose these sanctions. The sanctions will force the Iranians to comply with legitimate international principles and ensure that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. It must also implement the uranium exchange deal it signed several days ago [i.e., the Tehran Declaration], strengthen its ties with its neighbors without interfering in their domestic affairs, and respect the fundamental principles of international law.[5]

"The truth is that no one believes the Iranians. The Iranian [Foreign Ministry] spokesman said that the agreement does not mean Iran will stop enriching uranium on its soil. [The agreement] does not include tangible guarantees that prevent Iran from enrichment activity, nor does it oblige [Iran] to open its [nuclear] facilities to IAEA oversight in order to verify it is complying with the agreement. The Iranians, for their part, said that they trust no one, and that they have no decisive guarantees that France, the U.S., and Russia... will fulfill their part in receiving and delivering the uranium, which, according to the agreement, is to take place in Turkey... Demagoguery will not benefit Iran or protect it from the impending international sanctions."[6]

Al-Hayat: Iran Missed the Opportunity Obama Gave It

An editorial in the London daily Al-Hayat stated that Iran had missed the opportunity Obama had given it and that its foreign diplomacy had failed: "...The Iranian regime has missed the opportunity that Barack Obama gave it by extending his hand. The American president had a real interest to make progress in this area, so as to show that his policy differs [from that of his predecessor], but the Iranian regime failed to take advantage of this opportunity, [basing] its conduct on an 'all or nothing' [strategy].

"The past year has been a year of missed opportunities for Iran: it failed to allay the doubts of the IAEA [regarding its intentions]; it went too far in its maneuvers and delay [tactics]...; and it failed to convince Russia that there was no need for a new set of international sanctions against it. [In fact,] it seems that [Iran] failed to notice the improvement in relations between the U.S. and Russia, [which resulted from] America's flexibility on the deployment of anti-missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. [Furthermore], the Iranian diplomacy seems to have suffered another, even greater, failure: it could not convince China to refrain from supporting the [sanctions] resolution, despite all the talk about the importance of the Iranian market for China, which is hungry for oil and investment opportunities. The adamant [stance] of the international [community also] emptied of content Iran's success in signing the agreement with Turkey and Brazil.

"...In the past few years, we have read a lot about the effectiveness of Iran's negotiations team, and [these claims] were true. But the past year ended with a failure of this expertise as well. [Iran's] policy of constant tension resulted in its isolation. The [new] sanctions are likely to double [its] economic difficulties and the degree of tension. The first year of Ahmadinejad's second term in office was marked by adventures that are not likely to have helped the stability of Iran or the region."[7]

Al-Arabiya Director-General: The Sanctions Benefit the Iranian Regime

Al-Arabiya TV Director-General 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed wrote that, by transferring Iran's nuclear dossier to the Security Council, the U.S. has taken the military option off the table and has thus helped Iran to complete its nuclear program: "Not only are these sanctions very limited in their impact, they actually do a lot to help the Iranian regime... The Iranians can shelter in their homes, assured that [American] stealth bombers and Tomahawk missiles will not target Tehran. In passing the [sanctions] resolution, the Security Council has effectively taken charge of deciding [how to respond] to Iran's nuclear program, whereas [previously] this decision was in the hands of the U.S., which explicitly stated that the military option for stopping Iran's nuclear program was on the table. Today the military option is no longer on the table, because [the matter] is in the hands of the Security Council – and since the U.S. has appealed to this body, it is obliged to [leave the matter in its hands] for a fairly long period of time. The Security Council's decision to impose economic sanctions [on Iran] has given the Iranians a respite, protecting them from a punitive military [strike] by the U.S. or even Israel... [Thus,] Iran is not being forced to comply with international demands. On the contrary, it feels that, by protecting it from possible military retaliation, the international decision has granted it an extension to complete its nuclear [project]."[8]

Saudi Dailies: Israel Must Also Be Disarmed

The Saudi daily Al-Watan stated in an editorial: "The Iranian military nuclear program is illegitimate, just as Israel's is illegitimate. If the timing of the sanctions has created an impression among the public that [Iran's nuclear program] is illegitimate, while Israel's is, it must be clarified that both [programs] threaten the Middle East, which must be free of nuclear weapons..." In reference to the Tehran Declaration, the editorial stated: "The Iranian issue has reached a sensitive stage. It turns out that there is no more room for additional initiatives, especially considering that some initiatives reflect political aspirations to play a greater role in the region at the expense of the Iranian-led anarchy. Iran has a moral and political responsibility regarding the region's safety and stability, and there is clearly no room in this situation for maneuvers."[9]

An editorial in the daily Al-Medina claimed the sanctions could only be considered a partial victory as long as the international community refrained from dealing with Israel's nuclear weapons. "The [Security Council's] decision is an achievement for the Obama administration and the international community, but it is an incomplete one so long as it is not part of the collective effort to disarm the Middle East of nuclear weapons and to break the silence on Israel's nuclear [weapons]. One can find some positive indications about this matter in the statements of President Barack Obama following the announcement of the resolution, to the effect that the sanctions are a clear message regarding the determination of the international community to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.[10]

The English-language daily Arab News expressed a different stance, opposing the sanctions on the grounds that they did not reflect Saudi and Arab aspirations to take advantage of the Iranian nuclear crisis in order to advance the goal of disarming the Middle East of nuclear weapons, which is to say dealing with Israel's nuclear weapons. The daily said Russia and China would regret their support of Washington's policy of confrontation:

"The Russians and the Chinese will come to regret their albeit reluctant backing of Washington’s confrontational policy. What they have done is sign up to the long-standing U.S. hypocrisy which decries Iran’s suspected push to acquire nuclear weapons while totally ignoring that Israel is already a nuclear power... The existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and Washington’s determination to ignore it completely undermines any drive to persuade the Iranians to eschew any atomic weapons program themselves. Yet the Obama administration cannot, or will not, recognize how fatally this damages its arguments against Iran.

"And the Russians and Chinese have allowed themselves to be suckered into a flawed confrontation with the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What is worse is that the U.N. Security Council’s imposition of a new round of sanctions cuts across the efforts of Brazil and Turkey to provide Teheran with an honorable way out of the impasse... Perhaps because the solution was not invented in Washington, the Americans chose to ignore it and press on with their new sanctions call.

"Then there is the extreme likelihood that these latest sanctions will not work but, as with Iraq, will actually damage ordinary Iranians. Ahmadinejad and his people have long expected these latest restrictions and will have made provisions to circumvent them where necessary. They will divert whatever national resources they need away from ordinary people to their own purposes. However, more sinisterly, they will almost certainly use the heightened tension to beef up their security clampdown on opposition leaders and supporters. Dissenting voices within the country will seem ever more like treason and will be dealt with harshly."[11]

Al-Riyadh: We Are Under Siege from Several Directions

An editorial in the daily Al-Riyadh reflected Saudi Arabia's fear of the consequences of Iranian nuclear weapons. It hinted that the Gulf states could not rely exclusively upon the Western superpowers to guarantee their safety, and called on them to pool their efforts and put up a united defense against the Iranian threat: "The principle of superpowers defending smaller [countries] is conditional upon greater interests, such as the smaller country being in a strategic location that affects world trade, or possessing vast natural resources, or [hosting] military bases against the [superpower's] rivals. Otherwise, the big countries, those with the navies, the satellites, and the advanced technologies, have no interest whatsoever in [defending small countries]...

"We [the Arab states] are vulnerable, as evidenced by the rival [powers] vying for us and striving to draw us under their auspices or to force us to submit to their will. The [competition] is between three countries: Turkey, Iran, and Israel. What they have in common are their aspirations in the region, and what sets them apart is [the question of] who will win the biggest piece of the Arab pie... We are currently facing defense challenges and existential threats in the fields of economy and national identity. It seems that our concerns have not amounted to a realization that we under siege from several directions. Indeed, the rivalry among us over [how] to respond or issue a statement or make some move extinguishes any hope for defense coordination or economic agreements. Perhaps it is the Gulf states especially that must see the threat and pursue a political and defense plan that will not be dominated by emotions and will not to surrender to whoever [agrees to] defend [these states] in the event of an emergency."[12]

Saudi Shura Council Member Zuheir Al-Harathi, a columnist for Al-Riyadh, expressed concern over the U.S. and Iran striking a deal on Iran's nuclear program: "Ahmadinejad's criticism of the U.S. is absurd... in light of [the possibility of an] American-Iranian treaty over [Iran's] nuclear weapons. Despite Resolution 1929 [which imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran]... leaks to the media pointed to direct American-Iranian talks that are still being held in Washington by a joint committee. It is possible that this matter will delay or prevent a military confrontation [between the U.S. and Iran], as evidenced by the calls of [U.S.] Congress members to negotiate with Iran, or what is referred to as the 'grand bargain,' according to which Washington will commit itself to refrain from attacking Iran in return for projects and contracts to be given to American companies. [This deal] is now being discussed and it may come at the expense of the people in the Gulf."[13]

'Aaidh Al-Qarni: Iran Will Become Nuclear and We Will Be in the Lion's Jaws

The Saudis' fear of a nuclear Iran was more explicitly expressed by popular preacher 'Aaidh Al-Qarni. In an article titled "O Arabs, Iran Is Coming," he warned that the West would do nothing to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons and that these would be aimed not at Israel, but at the Arabs: "I say with certainty that Iran will be a nuclear superpower. When this happens, the West will recognize it [as such], and delegations will be sent there according to the principle of 'if you can't beat them, shake their hand.' Iran will not attack Israel and will never go to war with it. This is a secret I am revealing to the Arabs for the first time... The rulers in Tehran are clever. When [the second Caliph,] 'Omar bin Al-Khattab, heard a man cursing [the Persians], he said: 'Don't say that, the Persians have the sharpest minds of all people.' I say to the Arabs, wake up!... What will we Arabs do when there are Iranian nuclear weapons to our north and Israeli nuclear weapons to our south, and we find ourselves in the lion's jaws? Iran knows the game and knows that the strong survives and is superior. When it imposes itself [on the world], the world will greet it with respect and admiration. As for the Security Council's rebukes and condemnations, they are empty words that are not worth the paper on which they are written. The Security Council has condemned Israel 72 times, and not a single Israeli was [ever] killed by these condemnations..."[14]

Saudi Columnist: We Must Accept a Nuclear Iran

'Abdallah Hamid Al-Din, a columnist in the Al-Hayat daily, expressed a different view, saying that Saudi Arabia could find a way to live with a nuclear Iran: "Despite the complex situation, we and Iran can live according to a common interest, because in the long run what hurts us hurts them as well, and vice versa. While during the Cold War it was easy to categorize the countries as either allies or foes, today no country is entirely an enemy and no country entirely an ally. It is no longer possible to look for an enemy in the form of a country. Every country represents a combination of threats and benefits [to other countries]. The more threatening [a given country] is on various levels, the more it represents great opportunities. In the future, our foreign policy must be transparent and provide an equation that will minimize the threat and benefit from the opportunities".[15]

*R. Green is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), February 16, 2010.

[2] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), February 16, 2010.

[3] Al-Iqtisadiyya (Saudi Arabia), May 16, 2010.

[4] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), May 21, 2010.

[5] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), May 19, 2010.

[6] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia) May 27, 2010.

[7] Al-Hayat (London), June 14, 2010.

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 10, 2010.

[9] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), June 13, 2010.

[10] Al-Medina (Saudi Arabia), June 11, 2010.

[11] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), June 10, 2010.

[12] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), June 16, 2010.

[13] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), June 22, 2010.

[14] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 15, 2010.

[15] Al-Hayat (Saudi Arabia), March 30, 2010.

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