"An issue of confidence": Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal

"An issue of confidence": Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal. Photo: Getty Images

Monaco: An influential Saudi prince has blasted the Obama administration for indecision and a loss of credibility with allies in the Middle East, saying that American efforts to secure a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians would founder without a clear commitment from President Barack Obama.

‘‘We’ve seen several red lines put forward by the president, which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and eventually ended up completely white,’’ said Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia.

‘‘When that kind of assurance comes from a leader of a country like the United States, we expect him to stand by it.’’

He added: ‘‘There is an issue of confidence.’’

Mr Obama had his problems, but when a country had strong allies ‘‘you should be able to give them the assurance that what you say is going to be what you do’’, said the prince, who no longer has any official position but has lately been providing the public expression of internal Saudi views with clear approval from the Saudi government.

The Saudis have been particularly shaken by Mr Obama’s refusal to intervene forcefully in the Syrian civil war, especially his recent decision not to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with military strikes even after evidence emerged that Dr Assad’s government used chemical weapons on its own citizens.

Instead, Mr Obama chose to seek congressional authorisation for a strike, and when that proved difficult to obtain, he co-operated with Russia to get Syria to agree to give up its chemical weapons.

Prince Turki and Israeli officials have argued that the agreement merely legitimised Dr Assad, and on Sunday, the prince called the world’s failure to stop the conflict in Syria ‘‘almost a criminal negligence.’’

Syria, Iran, nuclear issues and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were the main focus for Prince Turki, who spoke at the World Policy Conference, a gathering of officials and intellectuals largely drawn from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Saudi unhappiness with Iran’s growing power in the region is no secret, and the Saudis, who themselves engage with Iran, have no problem with the United States trying to do the same, the prince said.

But he complained that bilateral talks between Iranian and US officials had been kept secret from US allies, sowing further mistrust.

The prince said Iran must give up its ambitions for a nuclear weapons program (Iran says its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes) and stop using its own troops and those of Shiite allies such as the Lebanese organisation Hezbollah to fight in neighbouring countries, such as Syria and Iraq.

‘‘The game of hegemony toward the Arab countries is not acceptable,’’ the prince said.

A prevalent theme at the conference was the waning of US influence in the Middle East.

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said: ‘‘Today we live in a zero-polar, or a-polar, world. No one power or group of powers can solve all the problems.’’

The US, Mr Fabius said, was often criticised for being ‘‘overpresent, but now it is being criticised for not being present enough.’’

While ‘‘it is perfectly understandable’’ that Mr Obama would refrain from new military engagements in the Middle East, he said, ‘‘it creates a certain vacuum’’ that has allowed Russia ‘‘to make a comeback on the world scene’’ and has encouraged France to intervene in the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali.

The New York Times