Schizophrenic’ US Foreign Policy Pushing Arab States toward Russia
America’s “schizophrenic” approach to the Middle East could result in many key Arab states deciding to align themselves more closely with Russia, the rulers of Bahrain warned on Sunday.
In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the Crown Prince of Bahrain, warned that Barack Obama’s administration would lose influence in the region if it persisted with what a “transient and reactive” foreign policy.
There has been a sharp rise in tensions between Washington and several major Arab states in the wake of last month’s controversial interim agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme.
Citing President Obama’s handling of the recent crisis over Syria’s chemical weapons, which allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to seize the initiative, Sheikh Salman said some states were now seriously reviewing their relations with the US.
“The Russians have proved they are reliable friends,” said Sheikh Salman, referring to Mr Putin’s diplomatic intervention to prevent Western military action against Bashar al-Assad.
“As a result some states in the region have already started to look at developing more multilateral relations rather than just relying on Washington. America seems to suffer from schizophrenia when it deals with the Arab world.”
The Washington and Cambridge-educated Sheikh Salman, 44, who also serves at Bahrain’s First Deputy Prime Minister, said America’s recent involvement in the region’s conflicts meant many Arab states now doubted whether they could rely on the West to protect their interests.
“The US cannot sit from afar making condescending judgements. It needs friends and partners to achieve its goals,” he said.
Bahrain is one of several Gulf states which were angered by the Obama administration’s decision to call for the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak three years ago following widespread anti-government protests, even though Mr Mubarak has been a staunch pro-Western ally for thirty years. Sheikh Salman said this was an example of the “transient and reactive” nature of American policy-making.
“The problem is that policy in America operates in two-year election cycles, and there is no long-term planning.” In common with other Gulf states, Bahrain has also expressed concerns about the recent interim agreement negotiated in Geneva last month between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Britain and America used the annual Manama Dialogue regional security conference, which is hosted by Bahrain and organised by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, to offer assurances that the Geneva deal will not affect their support for Arab states.
Chuck Hagel, the US Defence Secretary, told the conference that the Pentagon had no plans to reduce America’s sizeable military presence in the Gulf, while William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, emphasised Britain’s “historic” ties with Bahrain, which is home to the US Navy’s powerful 5th Fleet.
But the concerted charm offensive failed to assuage the resentment many Arab states feel that their own concerns have not been addressed by the interim agreement with Iran. Although Iran was invited to attend the Bahrain conference, it was the only Gulf state not to send a delegation.
“You do not need to reassure us,” said Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister, of the diplomatic overtures made by Britain and America at the weekend. “You need to listen to us, because we know Iran well.”
Sheikh Khalid said the Gulf states were keen that any deal with Iran should not be confined to the nuclear weapons issue alone. Any agreement with Iran must also address other issues, such as Tehran’s continued involvement in state-sponsored terrorism, including its support for terrorist groups like Hizbollah.
Con Coughlin is an expert on international terrorism and the Middle East, with the benefit of 25 years in foreign journalism, he deftly scrutinises world affairs.
Con Coughlin, Defence Editor
December 08, 2013
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