Cablegate: Saudi Arabia: General Jones’ January 12, 2010
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TAGS IR, MARR, MASS, MOPS, SA, YM
SUBJECT: SAUDI ARABIA: GENERAL JONES’ JANUARY 12, 2010
MEETING WITH PRINCE MOHAMMED BIN NAIF, ASSISTANT MINISTER OF INTERIOR
Classified By: Ambassador James B. Smith for reasons 1.4 (b, d)
1. (S) Summary: During a 30-minute meeting with Prince Mohammed, General Jones reviewed U.S. and Saudi efforts to combat Al-Qaida extremists in the region and discussed Afghanistan/Pakistan, Yemen, and Iran. Prince Mohammed highlighted Saudi Arabia’s continued and growing concerns about Al-Qaida operations originating from Yemen and praised the Yemeni government’s successful December attacks against Al-Qaida operatives. The meeting was followed by a lunch and a briefing on the situation on the Saudi-Yemeni border.
WE MUST KEEP AL-QAIDA ON THE RUN
2. (S) General Jones noted that the attempted bombing of a U.S. aircraft on December 25 is another reminder that we are passing through difficult times. He assured Prince Mohammed that while the U.S. recognizes that screening procedures can be improved, the U.S. has confidence that the systems in place are basically sound. The General also noted that terrorism concerns seem to be spreading beyond Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and now are being heard from governments in north Africa, particularly Niger, Mali, Morocco and Algeria.
3. (S) Prince Mohammed responded that we are likely to see many more attempts like the December 25 incident. He also noted that the Saudi experience against Al-Qaida demonstrates that the best response is to “keep them on the run.” Right after the 9/11 attacks, he noted, nearly eighty percent of the mosques in Saudi Arabia voiced support for Bin Laden. That is when the Saudi leadership realized how dire the problem they faced was. Over the last 6 years of combating Al-Qaida inside Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom has foiled many Al-Qaida plots and in the process learned that we must not only to fight Al-Qaida “in the field,” but also to counter their ideology in order to curtail recruitment.
4. (S/NF) In this light, the recent attack against Al-Qaida in Yemen “was very positive.” Prince Mohammed noted that the Saudis have been monitoring conversations of Al-Qaida operatives in Yemen very closely, and whereas before the attack they were hearing relaxed 20-minute phone conversations over cell phones, after the attack the phones went virtually silent. This suggests that at least for now these operatives are more focused on their own security rather than on planning operations.
SAUDI CONCERNS ON YEMEN
5. (S) Prince Mohammed said that the Saudi government has been watching with great concern Al-Qaida’s growth in Yemen over the last five years. Yemen’s geography makes it a much more convenient place for Al-Qaida operations. Not only does the mountainous terrain help them hide, but the shoreline also gives them an ability to move over the water - extending their potential reach much further abroad.
6. (C) One of Al-Qaida’s objectives in its confrontation with Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed explained is “to control Mecca and Medina.” He said that they want to be able to control who makes the Hajj, and if they were able to do so, they would limit the visits of those coming to the Hajj to one week, something that could cause chaos. (Embassy note: Among Al-Qaida’s basic objectives is its call to “liberate” the Islamic holy sites from the corrupt hands of the Al Saud, but this is the first time we have heard a Saudi official point out the more specific goal of limiting how long Muslims can visit the holy places as part of their Hajj. End note.)
7. (C) Prince Mohammed also noted that Saudi Arabia has been making an effort to seal the Saudi-Yemen border, noting that “we have been arresting between one to two thousand people each day.” He also admitted that the Saudis have maintained a common practice of feeding those caught crossing before transporting them back across the border. “We need to change
that,” he went on, since many may be crossing the border only to get a meal. Prince Mohammed pointed out that a key feature of the Saudi approach to undermine Al-Qaida’s growth in Yemen is to bolster the central government, in particular with substantial financial assistance. A Saudi-Yemeni Council meets twice a year to review development projects in Yemen funded by Saudi Arabia. However, up to now, he reported, the Saudis have not been satisfied with the distribution of these development and infrastructure projects because the Yemeni government has been concentrating them in Sanaa and other urban areas. The Saudis now insist on having a say in distributing these infrastructure investments with remote areas receiving priority “to give the tribes in those areas something to lose if they cooperate with terrorists.”
8. (C) General Jones noted that the Obama administration’s approach in Pakistan and Afghanistan reflects many of the same lessons that the Saudis have learned. That is why the U.S. is working with a new emphasis on national reunification in Afghanistan. The approach includes reducing the emphasis on military operations while exerting new efforts to encourage reconciliation. In order for this strategy to succeed, Gen. Jones cautioned, it will be essential that Pakistani territory no longer be available as a safehaven to terrorists.
9. (C) Prince Mohammed commented that “Pakistan must let people know that it is fighting a war to keep Pakistan united and its people safe.” But if we want one hundred percent from them, he cautioned, we should make them feel more secure on their border with India. He also noted that King Abdullah “has concerns about the Pakistani government; the biggest problem is the army.” General Kayani (Army Chief of Staff) is a good man; I asked him, Prince Mohammed recounted, whether or not his soldiers, when they visit their villages, wear their uniforms, or if they changed into civilian clothes. He told me that they change to civilian clothes.
10. (C) General Jones assured Prince Mohammed that the U.S. is working to reduce Pakistani-Indian tensions, and emphasized that what is most needed at this moment is for Pakistan to choose which path it wants to take. The first step is to dislodge the terrorists; if Pakistan resolves to do this, they will find that the U.S. will help them for some time to come. The Pakistani ISI also needs to act with greater consistency. Noting Saudi Arabia’s influence with Pakistan, General Jones emphasized that the U.S. is looking for Saudi Arabia’s support.
Next Phase with Iran
10. (C) General Jones described the administration’s current thinking on Iran, noting that Iran has failed to enter into a serious dialogue with the international community about its nuclear program. With the deadline of the end of the year now passed, it is time to start looking at sanctions. Prince Mohammed said Saudi Arabia remains greatly concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and noted that there is now a big crack in the Iranian government, particularly following the recent attack on Karroubi. (Embassy note: Opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi’s car was fired upon on January 9, an attack that oppositionist attribute to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. End note.)
High Marks for U.S.-Saudi Counterterrorism Cooperation
11. (C) General Jones asked Prince Mohammed if there was anything needed from the U.S. to improve our counterterrorism coordination. Prince Mohammed responded that King Abdullah has made very clear that U.S.-Saudi security cooperation must remain independent of political buffeting. He said that our cooperation is very good, and has developed to the point that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are in “simultaneous mode” regarding the sharing of raw data and threat information. Gen. Jones remarked that Prince Mohammed has played an
important role in bringing about this strong security relationship, and conveyed President Obama’s appreciation for this strong partnership.
12. (S) We note that Prince Mohammed did not raise the matter of recently introduced heightened screening procedures on Saudi citizens. While we have heard that these new measures provoked strong reactions from some in the Saudi leadership, the absence of any expressions of concern or upset on Prince Mohammed part is fully in keeping with his reputation as one who fully understands the difficulty of maneuvering against extremist elements to prevent attacks. The Embassy views this meeting as accomplishing the important objective of reinforcing our strong counterterrorism cooperation. As is evident from his brief responses to Gen. Jones’ briefs on Iran and Afghanistan/Pakistan, these issues are ones on which Prince Mohammed carefully defers to the King. SMITH