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Obama, Oil, Saudi Arabia, and US relations with the Muslim world

Barak Obama arrived in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh on Wednesday, meeting with the country’s King Abdullah for talks ahead of the US President’s much anticipated address to the Muslim world in Egpyt on Thursday- an address the President hopes will serve as introduction to a new amended relationship between ...

Barak Obama arrived in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh on Wednesday, meeting with the country’s King Abdullah for talks ahead of the US President’s much anticipated address to the Muslim world in Egpyt on Thursday- an address the President hopes will serve as introduction to a new amended relationship between Washington and the Muslim world.  A relationship many in the region feel was greatly damaged by the former US administration of George W Bush. 

An almost sixty year old bilateral relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has guaranteed Saudi oil exports to Washington in return for ensured US protection of the Saudi Kingdom.  Washington is now hoping Saudi Arabia will play a moderating role among the Organization of Petroleum Exporters (OPEC) and help in bringing down oil prices that are currently at a seventh-month high.  The rise in petroleum prices has threatened Obama's efforts to lift the United States out of recession, thus hastened global financial recovery.  Indeed, Riyadh will most probably be keen to garner greater influence out of the OPEC members through reducing its oil prices as a way of neutralizing the influence of Iran and Venezuela- two nations vehemently opposed to the United States. 

Analysts believe that Saudi Arabia- the world’s largest crude oil exporter with over a fifth of global crude oil reserves- will want to see how serious Obama is in meeting the promise to US citizens back home of steering away from fossil fuels such as Middle East oil and instead focus on diversifying energy resources.  The political risk agency, Eurasia Group have said, “The growing realization among Saudi officials that the Obama administration means what it says about diversifying ... may soon begin to create tensions in the bilateral relationship”.

In complete contrast to amicable relations, the Al Jazeera news channel has released a televised statement by Al Qaeda Saudi-born leader Osama Bin Laden, who announced that Obama was carrying on in the footsteps of his predecessor George W Bush, and told the American people to be prepared for the consequences resulting from US government policy.  A day earlier Al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri gave a statement that was aired to the public, in which he warned Muslims around the world not be seduced by Obama’s ‘polished words’ during the President’s planned address to the region scheduled for his visit to Cairo on Thursday. 

Analysts believe that Al Qaeda’s statements display a desperate campaign to counter Obama’s persuasive diplomacy and potential popularity in the Muslim world.  Al Qaeda had built up its support base from radically religious and politicized Muslims who resented US support Israel and the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ which it viewed as being a ‘war on Muslims’.  Now that Obama has begun his career in office by effectively bringing to an end Bush’s ‘war on terror’ by recalling US troops home from Iraq and campaigning for the closure of the Guantanamo prison, as well as pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement with the creation of a Palestinian state, compounded by his efforts to re-establish diplomacy with Iran, including his campaign to repair US ties with the Islamic world in general, the Al Qaeda leadership fear that their enemy, the US, might actually start to persuade Muslim masses that America-hating is no longer necessary.

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