Allies worried about United States' fading role in Mideast
By McClatchy Newspapers
Published: Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, 6:57 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Five years since President Obama vowed to expand relations with the Arab world and the broader Middle East, his administration is under fire from allies worried that the United States is scaling back its historic role as a power broker and in the region.
With a bitter power struggle intensifying between Iran and Saudi Arabia and widening crises in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt, Washington's relative lack of influence and involvement has become a diplomatic problem and may be contributing to a growing threat from Islamic extremists, diplomats say.
Senior officials in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel have complained about what they view as an American retrenchment after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with some leaders beginning to chart policies more independent of Washington than in the past.
Secretary of State John Kerry sought to ease those concerns on Friday, insisting in a foreign policy address during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that “it is a myth that we are pulling back or giving up or standing down. ... Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Kerry said priorities in the region are to curb Iran's nuclear development, to break the bitter stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to help end the Syrian war through negotiations. Clear progress has been made so far only with Iran, which agreed Jan. 20 to a six-month interim deal that called for a partial lifting of sanctions in exchange for a freeze on its nuclear enrichment work.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states have urged Washington to do more to help rebel militias fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, and they were alarmed in September when the White House backed off its threat to use airstrikes to punish Assad's government for using chemical weapons.
Saudi leaders have been especially critical of Washington. Their frustration has become so public that the kingdom turned down a seat on the U.N. Security Council partly to protest inaction on Syria.
Gulf states are fearful that the White House is seeking not just a deal to limit Iran's nuclear efforts, but a broader rapprochement with Tehran. Some gulf officials warn that they may bolt from longtime security agreements with the United States and work out their own deals with Iran if they see Washington move toward an accommodation with Tehran.
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