Saudi-Iran Ties To Remain Despite Washington's Al Khobar Bombshell.
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TEHRAN - The sudden downturn in the atmosphere between the US and Iran has prompted concerns both in Tehran and Riyadh about the implications for the growing Saudi-Iranian relationship. But APS has learned both sides are confident that the ties between these large neighbours, strategically located on either side of the Persian Gulf, will not be affected in any significant way.
Officials have assessed the recent developments in the US, i.e. the charge by Attorney General John Ashcroft that Iran was involved in the Al Khobar bombing of June 1996 and the vote for the renewal of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), to be the result of partisan politics between the Democrats and the Republicans, with the pro-Israeli lobby manoeuvring in between. The officials say both Saudi Arabia and Iran are determined that Washington's attitude towards Tehran would not be allowed to hit their burgeoning relationship.
On June 20, the US House of Representatives' International Relations Committee voted 41-3 for a renewal of ILSA for another five years, thus brushing aside a White House-backed proposal to renew it for only two years. While the renewal is still not certain, the House vote has greatly increased the chances of this measure being pushed through. On June 23 Ashcroft announced the findings of a US grand jury, looking into the Khobar Towers residential complex bombing that killed 19 American airmen and injured nearly 400 others, which stated that the attack was "inspired, supported and directed by elements of the Iranian government". The federal grand jury has returned indictments against 13 Saudis and one Lebanese. The indicted Saudis are alleged to belong to Saudi Hizbollah, believed to be sponsored and aided by Iranian intelligence agencies.
Coming so soon after the landslide presidential election victory of Mohammed Khatami, considered a liberal reformer and is admired by many in the US and in the Middle East, these moves by Washington were a surprise for the moderates in Tehran. Indeed, there were reports earlier this year that the ILSA might be allowed to lapse, allowing for a revival of US-Iranian relations. It also went against a steady stream of commentary by top ranking US politicians, strategists, think tanks and businessmen who said it was time to ease the sanctions against Iran. There is a consensus among moderates in Washington and in Tehran that the timing of the ILSA vote and the Ashcroft announcement tends to stall the slow but steady progression towards better Iran-US ties.
For its part, Saudi Arabia has treated the Ashcroft announcement with skepticism and some criticism as well. Riyadh has indicated that it is happy with its relationship with Iran. Saudi Arabia has also indicated that it is its own business to investigate the Khobar bombing, hinting that it does not attach much significance to the US grand jury findings.
Speaking on June 22 during a visit to Yemen, Saudi Defence Minister Prince Sultan Ibn Abdel Aziz, said: "This issue concerns Saudi Arabia alone. The American side should send all the documents, complete proof and a list of the names of the accused to us, because Saudi authorities alone are concerned with this case... Their (American) conclusions will return to Saudi Arabia and we will reinvestigate them because we want to double check".
Sultan's comments exposed misgivings in Riyadh about the way the US has pursued the investigation into the blasts, and reinforced underlying American discomfort with the way Saudi Arabia was dealing with the investigation. According to 'The New York Times' of June 23: "Limited cooperation from the Saudis hampered the investigation. Americans were allowed to observe Saudi interrogations of key suspects, but could not directly participate. Understandably, the Saudis preferred to curb the foreign and domestic political ramifications of the case".
Saudi Arabia has numerous sensitivities related to this issue. Firstly it does not want to give any ammunition to local radical Islamists who are waiting for any opportunity to portray the House of Saud as puppets of the US. Secondly, the implication of Saudi Hizbollah brings in a sectarian angle, as the Hizbollah is a mainly Shiite organisation, and that would have domestic repercussions as well as a negative impact on its relationship with Iran - especially if Riyadh takes action based on an American recommendation.
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|Publication:||APS Diplomat News Service|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Jul 2, 2001|
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