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Mideast Expert Warns That Saudi Arabia Will Not Play a Leadership Role in Achieving Mideast Peace

December 14, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

William Quandt, who was the Middle East expert on the National Security Council under President Carter, has warned Americans not to expect Saudi Arabia to take a leadership role in achieving an overall Arab-Israeli peace settlement.

“The Saudis cannot and will not be the Arab party who takes the lead in the next phase” of the

Middle East peace process, he told a press conference at the Brookings Institution where he has been a Senior Fellow since leaving the White House in 1979. “They (the Saudis) can be helpful or they can be harmful in that process. But they will not be the heirs of the late Egyptian President (Anwar) Sadat.” Quandt noted that the Saudis will sit on the “sidelines” while Syria, Jordan and the Palestinians negotiate with Israel and if such talks were concluded successfully the Saudis would be “next in line.”

Quandt’s remarks last Friday were made in connection with the publication tomorrow by the Brookings Institution of his 190-page study of U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, “Saudi Arabia in the 1980s: Foreign Policy, Security and Oil.”


While noting the importance of Saudi Arabia to the U.S., Quandt stressed at the press conference that the desert kingdom cannot replace Iran as the “major pillar” of U.S. security policy in the Persian Gulf. Americans should not “expect the Saudis to emerge as a regional super-power,” he stated. “They are not cut out for the job. They don’t aspire to it. They don’t have the resources to draw on except for their oil or money.”

Quandt said that the Saudis are not a regional leader and do not want to be one. He said the Saudis now have the capability to defend their oil fields but cannot defend the rest of the region from a threat from the Soviet Union. The Saudis will not allow the United States to have bases in Saudi Arabia, Quandt said. But he maintained they welcome the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf itself and in Oman, Somalia and Kenya.


Quandt charged that the U.S. has lost “credibility” in Saudi Arabia because of the lack of a coherent policy to meet such situations as the fall of the Shah in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviet penetration of the Horn of Africa and the lack of progress in the Arab-Israel peace process. He added that this problem existed before the Reagan Administration.

“If we could do something about the Arab-Israeli conflict other than go through the motions in this rather laid-back California style of Camp David negotiations, ” Quandt said, “if we could really get some momentum behind our rhetoric then I think there would be a sense that the United States is behaving like a super-power.” He said until this happens or the U.S. does something about the other problems in the Mideast, “a lot of our friends are going to wonder whether we have more in mind than selling arms.”


On the eight-point plan proposed by Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Quandt said Fahd offered it during Sadat’s visit to Washington last August when the late Egyptian leader made it appear that the Saudis would join the Camp David process. He said the plan was proposed as a means of denying that the Saudis were joining the process.

Quandt maintained that the main point of the plan was an effort by the Saudis to get the U.S. to begin contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization by having the PLO’s approval of Fahd’s proposals considered as acceptance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. But this did not happen.

The Fahd plan became a major issue in November when, because of the debate over the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia, Reagan said the plan implied implicit Saudi recognition of Israel for the first time, Quandt noted. He said, in addition, the West Europeans were also pushing the Fahd plan following Sadat’s assassination.

On the AWACS itself, Quandt said he would not have offered them to the Saudis at this time. His study warns that the Saudis will always seek more and more technically advanced weapons from the U.S. He urges the U.S. to attempt to convince the Saudis that such “relatively simple” equipment as anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft missiles would better suit their purposes than sophisticated aircraft.

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