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Friday, December 22, 2006

Saudi Arabia Re-Gearing its Regional Strategy

The resignation of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington, Turki bin Faysal, on Dec. 11 lifted a veil on an internal debate in Riyadh on striking out on a new strategy.

Nawaf Obaid, a private adviser to prince Turki bin Faysal who apparently set the cat among the pigeons in an op-ed article in the Washington Post on Nov. 30 (IOL 536), has spent a good amount of his time since September in discreetly staking out Riyad’s positions in the U.S. Intelligence Online has learned he spoke before prestigious organizations in the name of the think tank he heads, the Saudi National Security Assessment Project.

On Sept. 27 he launched an “Iran Project” in Riyadh with a paper entitled “a Shia Crescent and the Shia Revival: Myths and Realities.” On Oct. 30 he presented a highly detailed study on the different forces at play in Iraq to the 15th Annual Arab-US Policymakers Conference organized by the National Council on US-Arab Relations. The paper was entitled “Disintegrating Iraq: Implications for Saudi National Security.” On Nov. 3, before the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York, he unveiled a Saudi anti-terrorist blueprint (see graph below). On Nov. 6 he presented a conference before the New America Foundation entitled “Saudi Arabia’s Emerging Role: New Strategic Initiatives” and in which he stated that a country ranking as the world’s leading oil power, the strongest regional economy and the cradle of Islam couldn’t continue to ignore what was happening around it. Obaid called for a new defense doctrine in the region underpinned by a $50-60 billion armaments program; a strong increase in oil production; a rise in overseas aid and the diffusion of a moderate religious message. On Nov. 8, he was at the Department of Energy to outline “Saudi Arabia’s Strategic Energy Initiative” aimed at safeguarding against disruption in supplies.

Now that Turki has resigned Obaid no longer serves as his adviser, of course. Turki has returned to Riyadh where the debate on strategic changes can be expected to continue.


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