Obama Arrives in Saudi Arabia for Gulf Summit

President Barack Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia today to meet with leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council nations. The meetings, which Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will also attend, will follow up on a summit held at Camp David last year shortly after the P5+1 reached an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. The ...


President Barack Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia today to meet with leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council nations. The meetings, which Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will also attend, will follow up on a summit held at Camp David last year shortly after the P5+1 reached an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. The topics of discussion are expected to include the fight against the Islamic State, broader issues of regional stability, Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, and its rivalry with Iran. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI will also attend meetings tomorrow.

U.S.-Saudi ties have been strained for several reasons in recent months. In addition to remarks President Obama made in a recent interview in which he expressed his frustration with Gulf states for being “free riders,” U.S. domestic politics have also been an issue. President Obama is reportedly weighing the issue of whether or not he will declassify 28 pages from the 9/11 Commission Report that may implicate some Saudi officials in the 2001 attacks, and the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would allow Saudi Arabia to be sued by family members of victims of those attacks. The Obama administration has argued against the bill, saying it could endanger Americans abroad, and Saudi Arabia has threatened to sell off potentially destabilizing sums of U.S. currency should it go through. The Senate is also considering a separate bill that would condition military aid to Saudi Arabia on account of the high civilian death toll in the Saudi intervention in Yemen.

Sadr Calls for International Political Intervention in Iraq

With the Iraqi parliament still deadlocked on cabinet reforms, cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called for new protests, the resignation of senior politicians, and political intervention by the United Nations and Organization of Islamic Countries to hold early elections. The move is a significant escalation from his previous demands. Sadr’s statement comes a day after returning from Beirut, where several Iraqi political figures were holding meetings. Sadr reportedly met with Hezbollah officials and other Lebanese politicians who tried but could not broker a deal between him and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.


  • Leaders of the Houthi movement in Yemen say they will depart for peace talks in Kuwait later today after receiving assurances from Kuwait and Oman that Saudi-backed government forces will end their violations of the ceasefire; negotiations were supposed to begin on Monday and the Houthis have received international criticism for the delay.


  • A police officer in the Rehab neighborhood of Cairo shot three people, one fatally, after an argument over the price of tea yesterday; the shooting prompted immediate riots in which approximately 200 people overturned a police car, beat another officer, and chanted “the Interior Ministry are thugs.”


  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met yesterday in New York to talk about the ongoing implementation of the nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 last year; they will meet again on Friday on the sidelines of the signing ceremony for the Paris climate agreement to continue their discussion.


  • The U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions against Khalifa al-Ghweil, the head of the breakaway government in Libya that controls much of the capital of Tripoli; the U.N.-backed unity government has cautiously begun asserting control in the city, but has met with a mix of ambivalence and opposition from Ghweil’s government.


  • The Egyptian government blocked the appointment of Said Boumedouha, a Yemen specialist who has been critical of the Sisi government, to a position on a U.N. human rights panel; the move is part of a pattern of the Sisi government undermining human rights enforcement at the United Nations.

Arguments and Analysis

After Zahran: Rising Tension in the East Ghouta” (Aron Lund, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

“The beginning of a truce in parts of Syria — a truce that does not seem to be functioning well in the East Ghouta where President Bashar al-Assad’s army has continued to press forward — and of negotiations in Geneva have further inflamed relations between some groups in the enclave. The Islam Army has taken a strong stance in favor of negotiations, with Zahran Alloush’s cousin and close companion, Mohammed Alloush, heading the opposition diplomats in Geneva. But hardline jihadists such as the Nusra Front, which is a branch of al-Qaeda, understandably view these talks as a threat to their own security. They accordingly view the Islam Army’s participation as a form of treason. Relations between the Islam Army and the jihadists, which were at one point quite friendly, are now sliding into semi-overt hostility. At the same time, a scandal involving the attempted assassination on one of the East Ghouta’s most influential religious scholars, Sheikh Khaled Tafour, has highlighted cracks between the Islam Army and its more moderate rivals. It is possible that some combination of internal reforms and purges of dissident factions can restore balance to the system and ensure continued coordination among the main factions of the East Ghouta. But there is also the chance that, in the long run, the system created by Zahran Alloush and his local allies in 2014 will collapse altogether, with unpredictable consequences for the wider rebellion.”


Under my Umbrella: The No-Fly Zone Fallacy” (Lionel Beehner, War on the Rocks)

“Let’s face facts: The Syrian civil war is not going to burn itself out, barring some kind of greater military intervention or outright victory by Assad’s forces. Don’t listen to armchair analysts predicting a radical redrawing of borders, or the deep-sixing of Sykes-Picot. Borders, especially the haphazardly drawn ones in the Middle East, are stickier than we tend to presume. Yet, no-fly zones are not the antidote, whether to the security or the humanitarian problem we face in Syria. They neither resolve the conflict nor alleviate the suffering of civilians. Instead, they emerge as a type of ‘satisficing’ that policymakers like less to change the balance of power on the ground, and more to score domestic political points. They neither signal strength to our adversaries nor sympathy for the victims they purportedly are meant to protect. Instead, they put interveners in an indefinite holding pattern, one followed by either retreat, or mission creep (or worse, a drip-drip-drip of military and financial resources). Calling for a no-fly zone in Syria is a not a courageous demonstration of resolve for presidential candidates, nor is it evidence of a humanitarian strategy. It is evidence of parroting the Washington ‘playbook’ handed them by advisors who prefer to punt on Syria and refuse to put forth creative solutions.”

-J. Dana Stuster


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