- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2010

A senior member of the Saudi royal family warned Thursday that Republican victories in this week’s elections will encourage what he called “neoconservatives” and “warmongers” to push back against the Obama administration’s peace initiative in the Middle East.

Observers said that Prince Turki al-Faisal, the kingdom’s former intelligence head who also served as ambassador to the United States, was likely delivering a message on behalf of the Saudi government when he launched an outspoken attack on the supporters of Israel in Washington.

“Neocon advisers, American conservatives and Zionist extremists” promoted policies “that continually throw a wrench into the progress of peace,” the prince told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Quoting from an article by Robert Satloff, director of “the pro-Israeli” think tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Prince Turki characterized these policies as an opposition to the idea that an Israeli settlement freeze was vital; a call for the United States not to force Israel’s hand to make concessions in the negotiations; and the conviction that a tough U.S. stand on Iran, including the possibility of military action, was an essential prerequisite for peace in the region.

President Obama’s victory in 2008 encouraged many “to believe that the neocon movement had died, the victim of its own, failed delusional policies,” he said. But he added that neoconservative ideas were “crawl[ing] from their grave of failure,” and their proponents would be encouraged by the election results Tuesday, which gave Republicans control of the House and reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate by at least six seats.

“This recent election,” the prince said, “will give more fodder for these warmongers to pursue their favorite exercise — war-making.”

“I think these comments were out of line and not well received,” David Pollock of the Washington Institute told The Washington Times. “If he really wants to promote Arab-Israeli peace,” he added, “This is not the way to do it.”

He noted that the tone of recent remarks by the Saudi ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir, had been “very different.”

But several other observers suggested that Prince Turki was delivering a message from Riyadh.

“I don’t believe he’s going off the reservation,” Gerald Hyman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told The Times.

The prince in the past has delivered “important messages” in a nonofficial capacity, said Ellen Laipson, with the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank. The prince’s remarks were likely “close to the official thinking, even if they were a little more colorful” than the views expressed by diplomats.

Elaborating on his remarks, Prince Turki stressed that many Democrats were also strong supporters of Israel.

“Particularly in the Congress, the bipartisan support for Israel has been enormous; it’s not just Republicans,” he said. “My concern is really with the people who speak up for a more aggressive type of policy as espoused by neoconservatives. They will interpret these elections as, if you like, a return to what they would consider to be their view on foreign policy in general and … particularly on the Middle East.”

But he added, “I’m sure there are within the new crop of elected congressmen and women … those who would espouse such ideas as well.”

The election, he said, was “a fabulous spectacle, with lots of color and brouhaha … a lot of show business. But where the substance is, is when these people get back to the Congress, and they produce resolutions. Regardless of what happens in the world, they stand by Israel, and regardless of what Israel does, Israel is always right. That’s where the matter is, not in the election process.”

In what Mr. Pollock called “the most interesting comments,” the prince indicated that he did not think Saudi-U.S. relations would be negatively affected, even if the administration started to take a tougher line in the Middle East.

“The kingdom’s position as far as maintaining security [and] business [relations], student exchanges, etc., with the United States is with the distinct purpose of sharing mutual benefits,” he said. “The kingdom will continue to maintain its strategic friendship with the United States and hope that from that position of strategic alliance … to bring about with the United States a resolution” to the long-running conflict.

Nonetheless, he said there were alternatives for the Arab states to pursue if they lost patience with the stalled talks brokered by the U.S. One is “going directly to the United Nations to get recognition of a Palestinian state.”

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