Bush turns to Baker and Bandar to save his ass

By Ted Belman

On Feb 19/07 Washington Post published “Can a Saudi Dealmaker Rescue Bush?”

For 22 years Prince Bandar bin Sultan wheeled and dealed his way through Washington as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador. By his account — provided expansively to favored journalists — he had a hand in most of America’s major initiatives in the Middle East over a generation. During George W. Bush’s presidency, for example, he brokered U.S. rapprochement with Libya and previewed plans for the invasion of Iraq two months before the war.

For a while after returning home in the summer of 2005, Bandar kept a low profile. Some speculated he was out of favor with the kingdom’s ruler, Abdullah, despite his appointment as national security adviser. Now he’s back: Since the beginning of the year the prince has suddenly begun wheeling and dealing his way around the Middle East.

In the past month Bandar has held three meetings with the Iranian national security chief, Ali Larijani, most recently last Wednesday in Riyadh. He’s met twice with Vladimir Putin, in Moscow and Riyadh, to talk about Middle East affairs; overseen talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leaders; and quietly shuttled to Washington to brief President Bush. He helped broker this month’s Palestinian accord on a unity government as well as a Saudi-Iranian understanding to cool political conflict in Lebanon. And he’s been talking with the most senior officials of the Iranian and U.S. governments about whether there’s a way out of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear weapons.

Can Bandar bail the United States out of the multiple crises it has stumbled into in the Middle East? Maybe not, but Washington’s old friend may be one of the best bets a desperate Bush administration has going at the moment. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has maneuvered herself into a corner by refusing to talk to Syria and Iran and boycotting the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Consequently there’s little the United States can do diplomatically to defuse the conflicts in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, not to mention Iraq. Rice tried calling on Egypt, abruptly dropping the administration’s previous urging that its autocratic government “lead the way” in democratizing the Middle East. But Egypt has been unable to deliver: It tried and failed to pry Syria away from its alliance with Iran, and it tried and failed to win concessions from Hamas. CONTINUE

Haaretz reports “Israel pushing to improve Saudi peace initiative ahead of Riyadh summit”. This worries me.

Livni has said the Saudi Plan is worth talking about but there can be no return. And if the Saudis remove the return then what? She said, “Admittedly, the initiative spoke of the 1967 lines, but I only wish we were in a situation in which the conflict was just border dispute,”

Not a good starting point. It is all going to be discussed at the Riyadh Summit.

The Riyadh Summit, which was called by King Abdullah, is slated to take place on March 28 and 29. The agenda includes the Arab peace initiative, the Iranian threat and the communal tensions in Lebanon. Over the last few weeks, Abdullah has tried to mediate on all of these issues, with the goal of promoting regional stability.

Thus Bush is standing aside so that Baker’s ISG plan can go forward. Baker, Bandar, Bush and Saudi Arabia are one.

Previously I raised the possibility that Bush was in on the Mecca Accords. Here’s what the WaPo article informs,

Bandar’s spin and dazzle make it tempting to think he can pull off almost anything. It’s also easy to forget that he works in the interests of Saudi Arabia, not the United States. The results can be disappointing. Bush got a reminder of that when Bandar brokered the “Mecca agreement” between Palestinian leaders Abbas and Khaled Meshal of Hamas. Bush administration policy has been to strengthen Abbas at Hamas’s expense; the accord undercut that approach and all but ruined Rice’s plan to begin developing a “political horizon” at a meeting with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today.

Washington tried to set a couple of red lines for the Mecca talks: Hamas, it said, should be forced to accept international demands that it renounce violence and recognize Israel; and its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, should not lead the new Palestinian cabinet. Bandar disregarded both.

That doesn’t mean the old Bush family friend is not still welcome at the White House. The Palestinian deal was secondary for Bandar; his main aim is to defuse the multiple threats posed by Iran. If he can find a way to broker a deal that stops the Iranian nuclear program, and kick-starts a strategic dialogue between Tehran and Washington, it will be his greatest feat of all.

March 2, 2007 | 5 Comments »

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