Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Saudi King Sends A Message

Guess who's not coming to dinner?

Saudi King Abdullah has pulled out of a scheduled state dinner at the White House.

Now the White House ponders what Abdullah's sudden and sparsely explained cancellation of the dinner signifies. Nothing good -- especially for Condoleezza Rice's most important Middle East initiatives -- is the clearest available answer.

Abdullah's bowing out of the April 17 event is, in fact, one more warning sign that the Bush administration's downward spiral at home is undermining its ability to achieve its policy objectives abroad. Friends as well as foes see the need, or the chance, to distance themselves from the politically besieged Bush.

Official versions discount that possibility, of course. Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser, flew to Washington last week to explain to Bush that April 17 posed a scheduling problem. " 'It is not convenient' was the way it was put," says one official.

But administration sources report that Bush and his senior advisers were not convinced by Bandar's vagueness -- especially since it followed Saudi decisions to seek common ground with Iran and the radicals of Hezbollah and Hamas instead of confronting them as part of Rice's proposed "realignment" of the Middle East into moderates and extremists. ...

But Rice will get no relief when she returns to Washington. She will have to deal with more depressing society news: Jordan's King Abdullah, who has spent more time in George W. Bush's Washington than any other foreign leader, has let the White House know that he can't make that state visit discussed for September. Can you do 2008? the king asks instead.


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