- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2014

The White House quietly announced it was bringing on board a Middle East expert with a background in forging peace deals, a late-hour move to help President Obama smooth relations with key regional leaders that comes as he’s poised to visit Saudi Arabia.

A lot is riding on Mr. Obama’s planned March trip to Saudi. Gulf nations are concerned that the United States is reluctant to honor security and economic deals with the oil-producing nation, due to Arab Spring tensions that have yet to subside, the Los Angeles Times reported. And these same Gulf states are also concerned that the United States hasn’t taken a stronger stance in Syria and provided substantial military aid to rebel fighters.

Deputy Secretary of State, William Burns, said at a recent appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, that it’s only natural for America to “wonder if they really need to pay so much attention to the Middle East,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

The country’s tired of war, Mr. Burns said, and not as dependent on the Gulf for oil as in years past. But conversely, it’s that reality that makes some Gulf nations “question our reliability as partners,” he said, in the media outlet.

As such, the White House seems to going on a public relations campaign of sorts with its Middle East partners.

Mr. Burns said the key players have to remain partners — and not competitors — to keep some semblance of order in the region. And separately, aides with the White House say they’ve contacted former peace guru Robert Malley to give some words of wisdom on how Mr. Obama and various U.S. diplomats might best build some fences in the Mideast, especially in the lead up to Mr. Obama’s visit to Saudi, the Los Angeles Times said.

The diplomatic walk — and humble reach-out for external peace talk advice from Mr. Malley — is somewhat of a surprise, given the atmosphere Mr. Obama promised the Muslim world during his campaign seasons, when he claimed his administration would herald in new and friendlier relations with the region.

• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com.

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