Saudi Arabia: angry, frustrated, but pushing on as mediator in Mideast crisis
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — ''Angry, yes. Frustrated, maybe. But giving up, no.'' In these words, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal sums up the attitude of his country, a key actor in the Lebanese crisis.
Saudi Arabia is often portrayed as a moderate force in the region, with close relations with the United States. But in a meeting with journalists last week, Prince Saud strongly criticized Israel and only somewhat less strongly chided the US for what Arab states see as almost unquestioning US support for Israel.
Prince Saud sees the pullout of US Marines in Lebanon as a relatively minor matter in a ''a particularly critical period for the Middle East.'' Expressing the frustration of many moderate Arabs, he chose to emphasize the lack of progress on the broader Palestinian and Arab-Israeli issues and feeling that the US must do more to press for regional peace and, especially, a change in Israel's policies.
At the same time, senior Saudi officials and Western diplomats here continue to emphasize the basic compatibility of US and Saudi goals in the region.
Behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia is continuing its role as a mediator in Lebanon. Over the weekend, Saudi-appointed mediator Rafik Hariri resumed his efforts.
''(The Saudis) have relations and connections with all the factions in Beirut ,'' said a Western expert on Saudi affairs. ''And they have the power of the purse to bring to bear.''
American officials would like the Saudis to tighten those purse strings. Saudi financial aid to Syria, Washington feels, is indirectly nurturing those factions in Lebanon working for the downfall of President Amin Gemayel's government. Cynics call this ''protection money'' to a militant Arab neighbor that could one day make trouble for Saudi Arabia.
But Saudi officials continue to insist that Syria is ready to withdraw its forces from Lebanon if the Israelis pull out. Prince Saud said the onus is on Israel. He criticized US policy regarding Israel's security and relations with Arab states.
''The United States takes the position that the security of Israel is very important to the US. Therefore, Israel has to be given (military and economic) assistance in order to make it comfortable and in order to make it compromise,'' he said.
''If the object of this is to make Israel more able to compromise, we have seen just the opposite. Something has to change there.''