US signals caution to Saudis despite shared concern about Iran
WASHINGTON: Despite President Donald Trump's full-throated support for Saudi Arabia, the United States appears to be signaling a desire for Riyadh to take a more cautious approach in its regional power struggle with Iran, experts say.
The Trump administration, which shares Saudi Arabia's view of Iran as a regional menace, has strongly backed the Kingdom in the wake of a failed missile attack from Iran-aligned forces in Yemeni territory that demonstrated an ability to strike the Saudi capital.
Trump has cultivated much warmer ties with the Saudis after a fraught relationship with the Obama administration - the president made Riyadh his first stop on his maiden international trip - and has vowed to take strong action to confront Iran. Nevertheless, Washington, which has US forces in Syria and Iraq, is telegraphing a more tempered stance toward the confrontation in a region beset with turmoil.
On Thursday, the State Department called for "unimpeded access" for humanitarian aid to Yemen, after Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on the country to stem the flow of arms to Iran-aligned Houthi fighters.
A day later, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made clear he still recognized as Lebanon's prime minister Saad al-Hariri, who unexpectedly announced his resignation on Nov. 4 from Riyadh.
In announcing his decision on television, Hariri said he feared assassination and accused Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world, thrusting Lebanon into the front line of the competition between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran.
Two US officials said the Saudis, led by Crown Prince Mohammed, had "encouraged" Hariri to leave office and Lebanese officials say he is being held in Saudi Arabia, a charge Riyadh denies. Hariri has not commented publicly on whether he is free to come and go as he pleases.
In a statement on Saturday, the White House said it "rejects any efforts by militias within Lebanon or by any foreign forces to threaten Lebanon's stability...or use Lebanon as a base from which to threaten others in the region."