Saudi Arabia feels real danger from Iran

Retired Ambassador Gary Grappo

Retired Ambassador Gary Grappo

Saudi Arabia and its neighbors in the Persian Gulf play an indisputably important role in global oil and gas markets. Much of the news that comes out about the region fails to capture the nuances that exist between the countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council, however.

Speaking Wednesday at EnerCom’s The Oil & Gas Conference 21, Ambassador Gary Grappo gave the audience in Denver insight into the complex relationships that exist between Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, and its equally intricate relationship with the United States.

Especially important in considering Saudi Arabia’s decision making process is the way it views Iran, said Grappo, who served as Ambassador to Oman, as well as a senior diplomat in Riyadh. “In the view of many Saudis, the theocratic leadership of Iran is a threat, not just to them, but to Islam as a whole,” said Grappo.

As relations between the two Persian Gulf neighbors continue to worsen, many worry that the two may resort to open warfare, but Grappo said that, in his opinion, this was unlikely. “Neither one can afford it,” he explained.

A relationship built on shared interest, not shared values

Adding to the kingdom’s concerns are its feeling that its longtime ally, the United States, has turned its back on Saudi Arabia. The two nations have historically had very close relations, with Saudi officials having direct access to senior U.S. officials, even bypassing the State Department, much to his and his colleagues’ frustration, the ambassador joked.

“We must address what makes this relationship unique, and what makes it uniquely difficult,” said Grappo. “It is based on shared interests, not shared values.” Even though the United States and Saudi Arabia differ greatly in terms of value, both are interested in a stable Gulf Region, and both want economic stability.

Increasingly, it seems that the countries’ interests are beginning to diverge, however, with Saudi Arabia viewing the Iran nuclear deal as a direct threat to the kingdom. With heavy U.S. involvement in the deal, Saudi Arabia felt its old ally had turned its back on them, and leaving the kingdom with a nagging concern that its relationship with the U.S. is changing.

“The Saudis are wondering how much we will need them, if we don’t need their oil,” said Grappo. But even as the nature of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. changes, Grappo believes that the two still share those mutual interests, and that relations can improve. “Saudi Arabia still needs the promise of security, and no one can provide the same level of security as the U.S.,” he said, and with both wanting stability in the region, the ambassador believes that they will be able to continue to work together.

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