Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently flew to the Middle East. In terms of “diplomacy,” however, Rice appears to have been phoning it in.
“My approach has been, I admit, careful. It’s been step-by-step. I’ve not been willing to try for the big bang,” Rice said after her meetings Sunday. “To take the time to talk to the parties on the basis of the same questions and the same issues is well worth the time . . . and I won’t promise you that I won’t have to do that again before we can even move the process even further forward.”
If there is not going to be a “diplomatic” big bang, this may not preclude a different kind of “big bang” in the region.
As Dick Durata of “Blog Simple” noted in a comment to my recent post on Saudi factionalism, Rice’s visit to the Middle East also included a meeting “Prince Bandar and the heads of Jordanian and Egyptian security.”
I had missed that tidbit. But the confab did catch the attention of several others.
As Rami G. Khouri points out in his Daily Star column, “When Arab Security Chiefs Conduct Foreign Policy,” Rice’s visit to the Middle East operated on two relatively distinct tracks.
Two intriguing meetings took place this past week in the Arab world. In Egypt, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the intelligence services directors of four Arab states – Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Just days later, Arab heads of state met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for their annual Arab League summit.
Which of the two meetings was more significant and signaled the tone, content, and direction of Arab state policies?…
Rice’s meeting with the intelligence chiefs was a novelty that deserves more scrutiny, for both its current meaning and for its future implications…
Rice’s latest visit to the region included her quest for “moderate Sunni Arabs” who would join the United States and Israel in their face-off against Iran and its Arab allies, alongside her meeting to foster bonding between the US State Department and Arab security establishments.
To say that this meeting went without much publicity is an understatement. Intelligence Online covered the meeting. The resulting report appears plausible, but I cannot speak to the validity of the details:
Rice was accompanied on the occasion by CIA director Michael Hayden. Among those in attendance were the heads of the foreign intelligence agencies of Egypt (general Omar Suleiman), Jordan (Mohamed Dahabi) and Saudi Arabia (prince Moqrin bin Abdulaziz) as well as the bosses of the Saudi and United Arab Emirates national security councils, prince Bandar bin Sultan and sheikh Hazaa bin Zayed al Nahyan.
According to Arab diplomatic sources in Amman, the first issue on the agenda concerned relations between Hamas and Syria and Iran. The head of Jordanian intelligence talked of several recent attempts to sneak arms of Iranian origin into Jordan…
[One] theme of the meeting was the danger that Iran posed to the region. The CIA underscored the need to track down Iranian networks operating out of the United Arab Emirates, and particularly out of Dubai, and the other Gulf countries. Hayden also demanded that a special eye be kept on Shi’ite minorities in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. He also similarly claimed that efforts to limit the flow of Saudi extremists into Iraq left much to be desired. It was agreed that Arab intelligence agencies ought to focus their attention on Iranian military activities in Syria and Lebanon.
Isn’t it possible that these are “Cheney’s Arabs” and Arabists? The ones who are most eager and willing to join the US and Israel in a challenge to Iranian power?
Bandar is the most obvious name on the list, given the speculations about his direct links to Cheney.
And even as Saudi King Abdullah has been forging links between Abbas and Hamas in Mecca, Jordan’s director of General Intelligence, Mohammed Dahabi, has been ringing alarm bells about Hamas.
CIA director Michael Hayden doesn’t always read as a Cheney guy. But it was hard to miss his effort to establish his credentials as an Iran hawk when he testified before Congress in November 2006:
In Congressional testimony this month, General Hayden said he was initially skeptical of reports of Iran’s role but changed his mind after reviewing intelligence reports.
“I’ll admit personally,” he said at one point in the hearing, “that I have come late to this conclusion, but I have all the zeal of a convert as to the ill effect that the Iranians are having on the situation in Iraq.”
I do not know that it all adds up to a second track intended to subvert Saudi King Abdullah. But I wouldn’t bet against the idea.