Prince Bandar gone; Riyadh, US get closer on Syria regime-change

Prince Bandar gone; Riyadh, US get closer on Syria regime-change
Thu Feb 20, 2014 18:48:13

Recent changes in Saudi Arabian officials handling the war in Syria, may thaw the bitterness in Saudi-US bitter relations which impeded improvements in the initial joint plans in changing the government in Syria, a new report says.

Saudi Arabia has sidelined its veteran intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as leader of the kingdom's efforts to arm and fund Syrian militants, replacing him with another prince well-regarded by US officials for his successes fighting al-Qaeda, Saudi royal advisers said this week.

The change holds promise for a return to smoother relations with the US, The Wall Street Journal wrote in a report.

Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who has won praise in Washington for his counterterror work against al Qaeda in Yemen and elsewhere, is now a main figure in carrying out Syria policy, a royal adviser and a security analyst briefed by Saudi officials said Tuesday.

Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, Saudi King Abdullah's son and head of the Saudi National Guard, has also assumed a bigger share of responsibility for the kingdom's policy towards Syria, the advisers said.

US officials said Prince Mohammed enjoys good relations with Secretary of State John Kerry and CIA Director John Brennan. The latter first met the prince in 1999, shortly before he left Saudi Arabia after serving as the CIA station chief there.

The report says, Americans for three years refused to approve the proposed Saudi transfer of antiaircraft artillery and other heavy weapons to militants.

The Saudis now plan to provide militants with shoulder-fired missiles, or manpads, that can bring down jets and antitank missiles, an Arab diplomat and several opposition figures said recently.

If the transfer takes place, it would be the first time militants have such powerful weapons in any significant quantity.

US officials say they haven't given the Saudis a green light to move forward with plans to give shoulder-fired missiles that can bring down jets to hand-picked militants.

The US has gradually expanded its involvement in Syria at the urging of the Saudis, though not nearly as quickly as the Saudis had hoped. The Saudis persuaded the CIA to pay salaries to some fighters of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebel group, and the payments started about a year ago.

Initially under the CIA program, between 50 and 100 militants brought to the joint training base by the Saudis and Jordanians were vetted each month, a number Saudi officials complained was too small to make a difference.

US and Arab officials say it now takes less time for the CIA to do the vetting and the program is turning out a significantly higher number of militants each month.

Last week, with Prince Bandar having stepped away from the scene, Prince Mohammed met with US National Security Adviser Susan Rice ahead of President Barack Obama's March trip to the kingdom.

The US spares no possible effort in helping to topple the Syrian government, while still having military options and direct interventions open, while the Syrian government has been cooperating with almost every international proposal to from negotiating to destroying its weapons to end a multi-national war in its country.

Washington’s support for the militants, mixed with extremists, continues as the White House blames Russia for failure of Geneva peace talks and for not pressuring the Syrian government officials enough to step aside and leave the country to the US-backed opposition.


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