First Published: 2017-05-19

Saudi looks to assert regional leadership against Iran
Analysts say Saudi Arabias primary goal is to showcase its leadership of Muslim world, especially in face of regional rival Iran with Trump summit.
Middle East Online

Trump will tell Muslim leaders of his "hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam"

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia is looking to assert its regional leadership against Iran by hosting a summit between visiting US President Donald Trump and Muslim leaders from around the world, analysts say.

Trump, on his first foreign trip since taking office in January, will tell Muslim leaders of his "hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam" as he seeks support for the war against radical Islamists, Washington has said.

Muslim leaders may also be looking for Trump to build bridges after allegations of Islamophobia against his administration and its effort to bar travellers from six Muslim-majority countries.

But for Riyadh, analysts say, a primary goal is to showcase its leadership of the Muslim world, especially in the face of regional rival Iran.

"This is as much a sign of Saudi regional leadership" as of US assertiveness, and aims to show the extent to which the kingdom can gather key Muslim leaders, said Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Leaders and representatives of 55 countries -- from the southeast Asian sultanate of Brunei to Africa's Niger and heavyweights including Turkey -- have been invited by King Salman for Sunday's summit with Trump.

The summit will be one of three weekend meetings, as Trump holds bilateral talks with top Saudi officials and with leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which includes Saudi Arabia.

The bilateral summit on Saturday comes with Saudi leaders rebuilding crucial ties with Washington after feeling that Trump's predecessor Barack Obama tilted too much toward Tehran.

The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers including the United States was a major step toward ending Tehran's international isolation but raised serious concerns in Arab capitals.

- Doing 'the dirty work' -

Iran, the Middle East's second largest power by economy and population, is the Shiite Muslim rival of regional Sunni giant Saudi Arabia.

Saudi leaders regularly accuse Iran of stirring regional conflicts by supporting Shiite movements in Syria, Iraq and Bahrain as well as in Yemen.

Tehran denies the charges and in turn says Riyadh supports radical Islamist groups.

Iran, which holds a presidential election on Friday pitting moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani against hardline jurist Ebrahim Raisi, is also likely to loom large over Sunday's summit, analysts said.

"This summit has a very clear message to the radical Iranian regime that there will be a global consensus and global agreement between the United States and the Arab and Muslim world," said Salman al-Ansari, president of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), a private initiative to strengthen Saudi-US ties.

Andreas Krieg, of the Defence Studies Department at King's College London, said King Salman is trying to use the US to forge a "pan-Islamic alliance under Saudi leadership as a bulwark against jihadism and Iran."

The summit is part of preparations for a new US strategy mobilising the Muslim world against the Sunni jihadists of the Islamic State group, as well as against Iran-backed militias such as Lebanon-based Hezbollah, said Mustafa Alani, a senior adviser to the Gulf Research Centre.

"I think this is going to be important because it's supposed to translate into action on the ground, financial participation, troop participation, intelligence exchange."

Alani said the new US administration recognises that Saudi Arabia is a "super-regional state" whose help is required to contain Iran and combat "terrorism".

"We are witnessing now a change in the tone, change in policy" from Trump, he said.

Krieg agreed Trump needs a partner -- but one to do "the dirty work" for a country that does not want its own military deeply involved, reflecting Trump's policy of "America First".

"In the end 'America First' means using the GCC and Arab partners as proxies and surrogates, propped up with US equipment and training (paid for by these partners), to implement US policy," he said.

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai

Iraq sentences over 300 people to death for IS links

Syria chemical weapons visit delayed after gunfire

Syria regime shells last jihadist pockets in Damascus

After the war is won, ‘we shall not return’ to Mosul

Saudi Arabia to host cinema test screening with 'Black Panther'

Trump voices support for US pastor jailed in Turkey

Rouhani says Iran will make or buy any weapons it needs

US fears ceding influence to Russia, Iran in Syria

Nationalist Erdogan ally calls for snap Turkey elections

Saudi renews offer to deploy troops to Syria

Kaveh Madani, Iran’s expat eco-warrior who was on too many fronts