Arab-US Defense Cooperation – 2014 Arab-US Policymakers Conference

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations23rd Annual Arab U.S.-Policymakers Conference included a session on “Arab-U.S. Defense Cooperation” that featured Mr. Christopher Blanchard, The Honorable Mark T. Kimmitt, Dr. John Duke Anthony, Professor David Des Roches, Dr. Kenneth Katzman, and Dr. Imad Harb.

An audio and video recording of the session as well as a link to the transcript are available below. Videos of the entire 2014 conference are available on YouTube and podcasts of the conference are available through iTunes and FeedBurner.




Audio only:


HRH Saudi Arabian Prince Mit’eb bin Abdullah Comes to Washington

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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

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.

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The Dynamics of Future Saudi Arabian-Iranian Relations in Context

All is not well in Arabia and the Gulf. The further unraveling of security and stability in Iraq has exemplified this and more to the increasingly beleaguered government of Iraqi Arab Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad, the country’s capital. The accelerated breakdown of law and order in the land between the rivers has also rattled the governments and political dynamics of Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Yemen, and the six member-countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Among these countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran are of out-sized importance. Greater information, insight, and knowledge about how these two competitors for regional prominence perceive, interact with, and analyze and assess the likely intentions of the other – not just regarding Iraq but also Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon – is essential to understanding key trends and indications in Arabia and the Gulf at the present time and where the region is likely to be headed in the days to come. 

It is in this context that the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations is privileged to present the essay that follows by National Council Distinguished International Affairs Fellow Dr. Imad Kamel Harb. Dr. Harb recently returned to Washington, DC after spending the previous seven years working as a researcher and analyst in the GCC region. 

Dr. Harb previously worked to help rehabilitate the Iraqi higher education sector as a Senior Program Officer for Education at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). There he authored a USIP Special Report on “Higher Education and the Future of Iraq,” published in 2008. 

Since earning his PhD from the University of Utah, Dr. Harb has been an Adjunct Professor at San Francisco State University, the University of Utah, Georgetown University, George Washington University, the University of Maryland, and the Middle East Institute. 

Dr. John Duke Anthony


By Dr. Imad Kamel Harb

June 12, 2014

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Recent diplomatic overtures emanating from Saudi Arabia about possibilities for a thawing of relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran are unlikely to produce their desired results. Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal’s recent invitation to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to visit the kingdom was tepidly received at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

A potential visit by the former Iranian President, and former Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Ayatullah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, itself originating from an invitation by the new Saudi Ambassador to Tehran, Abdul-Rahman bin Ghorman, still awaits the approval of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei.

Myriad contentious issues from Bahrain to Yemen to Iraq, and from Lebanon to Syria have had the two countries’ leaderships at loggerheads and made anentente improbable. Indeed, Iranian-Arab acrimony promises to be the state of affairs for the foreseeable future, negatively affecting regional peace and inter-communal relations between the Gulf’s Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

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