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Friday, October 21, 2011     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Saudis said looking to China for strategic ties after U.S. 'betrayal' of key ally Mubarak

WASHINGTON — The Saudi distrust of Washington is said to have grown in wake of the U.S. disclosure of an Iranian plot to assassinate Riyad's ambassador to Washington. Officials said the Saudi royal family believed that the administration's response to an Iranian plot on American soil was tepid.


"The way the Saudis see it, Washington is much more supportive of Iran than of Gulf states," the official said. "So, the Saudis are acting on their own."

Officials said the Saudis and its Gulf Cooperation Council allies have intensified efforts to stop Iranian influence in the Middle East. They said Riyad was supporting Yemeni efforts to quell Iranian-backed Shi'ite unrest in Bahrain and Yemen while funding the Sunni opposition to the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria.

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"One of the most important consequences of the Arab Spring is the intensification of the competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran," Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, told a forum in Qatar on Oct. 17.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States are said to have declined sharply since the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Officials said the administration of President Barack Obama has detected a significant cooling in Saudi relations with Washington over the last year. They said senior Saudi officials were expressing distrust of the administration in wake of the fall of the Mubarak regime in February.

"The Saudis will not do anything to sever relations with us, but are looking for alternatives to the United States," an official said. "This has harmed cooperation on the strategic level."

Officials said Saudi King Abdullah was stunned when Obama called for Mubarak's ouster within 10 days of protests against the Egyptian president. They said the Saudi king told both U.S. as well as Western leaders that Washington betrayed Mubarak, deemed the most reliable Arab ally in the region.

"Our policy with regard to Mubarak as interpreted by some of our closest Arab allies in the Gulf has not gone over well," former National Security Advisor James Jones, who served under Obama until 2011, said.

In a meeting with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in October, Jones acknowledged a rift between Washington and Saudi Arabia, which in 2010 requested $60 billion worth of U.S. fighter-jets and munitions. Jones said the U.S. abandonment of Mubarak demonstrated the danger of relying on the United States, regardless of the level of cooperation.

"In their interpretation of our dumping President Mubarak very hastily, [it] answered the question of what we would be likely to do if that happened in their countries," Jones said.

Officials said the remarks by Jones matched the assessment in the White House and State Department.

They said Riyad has become closer to China and Pakistan and were relying on those countries for strategic weapons and internal security assistance.

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