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The Minister of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, HRH Prince Mit`eb bin Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Aal Saud, arrives in Washington, D.C. this week on a much anticipated visit to discuss Saudi Arabian-American relations at a time of great uncertainty in the Middle East.
Prince Mit`eb bin Abdullah receives senior Saudi Arabian National Guard officers during a reception in Riyadh. Photo: Saudi Press Agency.
Among the most prominent members of the Saudi royal family, Prince Mit`eb will re-affirm Saudi Arabian-American ties but will also bring a unique perspective on the dangers of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the continuing Syrian civil war, the uncertainties in Iraq’s future, and the threat of an expanding Houthi movement in Yemen. Indeed, his visit is likely to be a defining event in Saudi Arabian-U.S. relations and an important occasion to address the implications of potential developments in the Arabian Gulf, the Arab world, and the Middle East as a whole.
ISIS and the Syrian Civil War
Foremost among Prince Mit`eb’s concerns will naturally be the presence of ISIS fighters close to the Saudi Arabian-Iraqi border. The Islamic State has wrested control of Iraq’s Anbar Province in the southwest from the Iraqi army and is threatening to attack the capital Baghdad. Both developments present major challenges to the kingdom’s and the Arabian Peninsula’s strategic posture. While Riyadh has succeeded in the last decade-and-a-half in stanching the domestic threat represented by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, it obviously remains wary of the extremists’ external peril, which is even more ruthless and barbaric this time around.
Moreover, as the preeminent Muslim state in the international anti-ISIS coalition challenging the Islamic State’s use of Islam as justification for war and destruction, and the most powerful member in the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia expects to lead a vigorous response to ISIS’s threats.
It is thus quite possible that Prince Mit`eb will discuss with American officials ways to cooperate militarily and logistically to face down the present challenge to the kingdom’s and the Arabian Peninsula’s northern borders.
Prince Mit`eb’s visit will also provide an opportunity to clarify respective American and Saudi Arabian positions regarding Syria and to consider possible ways to increase cooperation on different aspects of that country’s grinding civil war. As the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda-aligned Al-Nusra Front continue to make gains on the battlefield in Syria, the Saudi Arabian-U.S. plan requires re-thinking and re-calibration. The size of the force of moderate Syrians to be organized and equipped (originally envisioned at 5,000 soldiers), the pace of their training and insertion into Syria, and their future maintenance and strengthening will obviously be on the agenda in any discussions.
What is clear, however, is that the prince will seek clarification of the U.S. Administration’s agenda and policy towards Syria with a view to obtaining a clearer commitment to the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and ending the influence of the Islamic Republic of Iran in that country.