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An hour with Voice of America

A good old English proverb says "Mean understanding results in poor knowledge" - and this is exactly what I felt two nights ago while taking part in a round-table debate for the Voice of America Television Network (Persian service).

It lasted more than an hour, hosted by Seyamak Dehqanpoor with two Iranian journalists - Mr Amir Taheri, from exile in London, and Mr Farahmand Alipoor, stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.

We discussed President Obama's visit to Saudi Arabia, the Iranian issue, Bahrain and the GCC.

One big question dominated - what did President Obama and King Abdullah talk about?

Although neither the Americans nor Saudi officials have disclosed any classified information about that meeting, I actually read more than 14 pages of an American statement afterwards. It was leaked by Obama's adviser, to the media Press pool accompanying him. Unfortunately it contained nothing of real substance, being only protocol-based.

Many journalists, both American and from the Arab world, have commented on the subject, but their reports are largely also barren and lacking in knowledge.

I clearly highlighted that this visit had been initiated by President Obama to reassure King Abdullah of America's good intentions and commitment to long-term relations. How far this was accepted by Saudi officials is a matter of conjecture. One can only confirm that it was a very cordial meeting, but without real warmth.

President Obama's foreign policy has embarrassed many American politicians, which serves to emphasise that the visit was a result of US concerns.

Traditionally it is well known that any president in his second term primarily thinks of his personal legacy, much more than decisive action.

In fact, two statements prior to Obama's arrival in Riyadh were issued, which revealed much. The first was from the American research centre Washington Institute, which admitted various Iran-linked attacks on GCC countries following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It also highlighted the US intelligence community's assessment that Tehran HAS been providing arms to Bahraini terrorists.

The second statement emanated from the office of the Inspector General of the State department, criticising its ambassador in Bahrain for aggravating the situation here by liaising with extremist elements.

However, any astute political observer will ask 'why now and not before?' Usually, and especially in the case of the American ambassador, such issues remain internal affairs of the Foreign Office, and are never made public. This set a significant precedent, which naturally prompts one to ask 'what was the motive behind it?'

Back to our TV discussion, where I was astonished by Mr Amir Taheri's general stance. He was simply spouting out the standard rhetoric we usually hear about the region.

Likewise, Mr Farahmand Alipoor's comments were no more than misinformed accusations about the situation of Shias in Bahrain. In fact I wonder why Voice of America selected an Iranian journalist from Kabul to participate, and not one directly from Tehran.

My answer to them was that Saudi Arabia has been and will remain a very conservative country which respects its relations with any nation based on mutual interests. It has never deviated from its stated foreign policies.

And one can also say in all fairness, that His Majesty King Abdullah, blessed by the wisdom his age brings, has always displayed the highest prudence and consideration when casting judgment on any given state of affairs. Not only in Saudi Arabia, but concerning Riyadh's relations with the whole world.

And to prove that we are objective in our assumption, last week, The Times of London, in its comment 'Why Saudi Matters' stressed that President Obama must rebuild Washington's relations with Riyadh. This is an excellent testimony to how an independent Western media gauges the importance of Saudi Arabia.

In fact The Times' commentator wrote that for more than 70 years the US-Saudi alliance "has been a bulwark of Middle Eastern stability".

Going back to what the journalist from Kabul said about Shias in Bahrain, I politely but pointedly reminded him of certain realities he was obviously not aware of - that Bahrain has many Shi'ite cabinet ministers, under-secretaries, ambassadors and business magnates. I challenged him to list how many Sunni ministers are sitting in the Iranian cabinet? How many Sunni Iranian ambassadors are holding offices abroad? This fact stunned the Iranian journalist, who was rendered speechless!

Surprisingly Mr Seyamak Dehqanpoor intervened and said that Iran was not a good example of the definition of fairness. If this is the case, why then did it take such a long time for decision makers in Washington to recognise Iran's meddling in Bahrain's affairs?

In conclusion, I said it seemed that the whole discussion had been about regional governments - as if their people had no voice at all. The truth is that the strong bases of these governments, including ours in Bahrain, depend on a solid rock of nationalism. To prove how far I'm right, in the aftermath of what we faced in Bahrain during 2011, it has been Bahraini nationalism that has extinguished all Iranian sedition and defused its propaganda!



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