Dempsey, Saudi Partners Discuss Iraq, Regional Challenges

RIYADH, Sau­di Ara­bia, Dec. 18, 2011 — Hours after the last U.S. Forces Iraq con­voy crossed the bor­der into Kuwait on its way home, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sat down for the first time with Sau­di offi­cials here to dis­cuss Iraq and oth­er devel­op­ments in the region.

Trav­el­ing with a mul­ti­coun­try USO hol­i­day tour to Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sau­di Ara­bia and oth­er nations, Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey took time today to meet with lead­ers of one of the Unit­ed States’ long-time part­ners in the Mid­dle East.

“I’ve been very clear with all of our part­ners — Sau­di Ara­bia, Kuwait and oth­ers — [that] if you’re con­cerned about the future of Iraq, then we should all work togeth­er to help ensure that we achieve a brighter future for Iraq,” Dempsey told reporters who are trav­el­ing with him.

“[If Iraq is] left unat­tend­ed or left to its own devices,” he said, then coun­tries that could have helped the new­ly sov­er­eign nation “should­n’t come back and com­plain about the out­come.”

Today Dempsey met with offi­cials from the Sau­di Min­istry of Defense and the Sau­di Ara­bia Nation­al Guard.

The chair­man, who from 2001 to 2003 served in the king­dom to train and advise the Sau­di Ara­bi­an Nation­al Guard, said he and the Sau­di offi­cials spent time renew­ing their acquain­tance.

But they also dis­cussed Iraq, Iran’s poten­tial influ­ence on Iraq, the Arab-Israeli con­flict, he added, and the grow­ing Sau­di invest­ment in the U.S. for­eign mil­i­tary sales pro­gram.

“On the spe­cif­ic issue of Iraq, I’d say [Sau­di offi­cials] are prob­a­bly con­cerned about the Iran­ian influ­ence and are eager to know what we intend to do to make sure that influ­ence does­n’t per­me­ate Iraq,” Dempsey said.

“They asked me what I thought it meant [that the U.S. mil­i­tary is out of Iraq] and they offered to tell me what they thought it meant,” he said, adding, “I would­n’t describe our dis­cus­sions at this point as sug­gest­ing to each oth­er what we might do.”

The Arab-Israeli con­flict was also on the agen­da, the chair­man said, a rou­tine top­ic in meet­ings with Sau­di lead­ers.

“Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing we begin our meet­ings with a reflec­tion on the fact that from their per­spec­tive the key to a last­ing set­tle­ment in the region is the Arab-Israeli con­flict,” Dempsey said.

The Saud­is made no judg­ments about how the Unit­ed States is man­ag­ing the con­flict, “but I would describe on the part of both the lead­ers in the Sau­di Ara­bia Nation­al Guard and the Min­istry of Defense … a height­ened sense of con­cern on the basis of what they con­sid­er to be two facts,” Dempsey said.

First, he added, “they are very con­cerned that our with­draw­al from Iraq opens the door for greater Iran­ian influ­ence, [and] they con­sid­er that Iran­ian influ­ence in Bahrain has a very real chance of desta­bi­liz­ing the region.”

A pos­i­tive sig­nal from the Saud­is is a rapid­ly grow­ing invest­ment in the U.S. For­eign Mil­i­tary Sales pro­gram, he said, with the Sau­di Ara­bia Nation­al Guard invest­ment grow­ing four-fold and the Min­istry of Defense invest­ment near­ly dou­bling.

And the Saud­is have estab­lished a new facil­i­ties-pro­tec­tion pro­gram through the pro­gram for crit­i­cal indus­tries such as oil refiner­ies and water and pow­er plants, Dempsey added.

With the Saud­is, he said, “We used to talk about stuff — mate­r­i­al pro­cure­ments, bright shiny objects. It was­n’t that kind of con­ver­sa­tion at all today. It was actu­al­ly quite sub­stan­tive; about train­ing and of course geopo­lit­i­cal issues.”

Dempsey added, “I think they feel like they’re in a very good place and … a strong place in terms of capa­bil­i­ties.

“I think they’re gen­uine­ly inter­est­ed now in how they can get bet­ter at uti­liz­ing [equip­ment they’ve pur­chased from the Unit­ed States], the chair­man said, “and I find that to be quite encour­ag­ing.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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