THE chilly reception given to President Obama on his arrival in Riyadh is a sign of the growing rift between the US and Saudi Arabia.
The governor of Riyadh received the president while state television showed footage of the king receiving other leaders from GCC countries on the tarmac of the airport at the same time.
At issue is a bill making its way through Congress that would allow American citizens to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for losses suffered during 9/11, and growing pressure on the Obama administration to authorise the release of 28 pages of the 9/11 commission report that have never been made public, purportedly because they contain details of possible links between the hijackers and the Saudi regime.
More dramatically, the kingdom has warned that if the bill is passed, it will consider withdrawing its investments in the United States, said to total $750 billion, with more funds parked in US treasury bills.
Global financial markets have shrugged off that threat so far, which could send a shockwave through the global economy, if carried out by the Saudis.
But the weak position of the Saudi regime’s fiscal health means it will suffer at least as much as the US economy — that fact considerably dilutes the probability of the threat being carried out.
Likewise the legislation under consideration in the US Congress that would allow US citizens to sue the Saudi regime for the 9/11 attacks is audacious, to say the least, and could open a Pandora’s box if reciprocated by other countries.
The only reasonable step in this whole affair would be the one that calls for releasing the 28 classified pages of the 9/11 commission report. If it is true that these pages contain information that may implicate the Saudi government in the attacks, then this needs to be known by the rest of the world, which has suffered the consequences of 9/11 as well.
If not true, the matter needs to be laid to rest. The growing tensions between the two countries are unlikely to go away soon, especially since they are driven in large part by Saudi fears of a growing thaw in ties between Iran and America.
For Pakistan it would be a good idea to not wade too deep into the belligerence engulfing the Middle East, and to stay out of the rivalry evident between important players in the region.
Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2016