As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plays center stage at the Congress this week to slam the Iran deal-in-the-making, the Saudis are playing a more subtle game. King Salman bin Abdulaziz has summoned the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to Riyadh. The highly unusual and urgent public invitation is being linked to “strategic cooperation” against Iran in the Pakistani press. Salman visited Islamabad a year ago as crown prince and gave Sharif a $1.5 billion grant to reaffirm Saudi-Pakistani strategic accord.
The speculation in Islamabad is the King wants assurances from Sharif now that, if the Iran negotiations produce either a bad deal or no deal, Pakistan will live up to its longstanding commitment to Saudi security. That is understood in Riyadh and Islamabad to include a nuclear dimension. Salman apparently wants Sharif’s assurance reaffirmed before the end of March.
Sharif also visited the Kingdom in January of this year. He was told that then-King Abdallah was at death’s door, and he came to pay his respects and meet with Salman before the King passed. No other leader was given this advance notice, another sign of the critical importance of the Saudi-Pakistani axis.
Sharif is expected in the Kingdom this week. The exact details of what the Pakistani nuclear commitment to the Kingdom includes is, of course, among the most closely held secrets of our world.
Salman has also hosted the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, this weekend as well as Jordanian King Abdallah II.
Iran is priority number one. It’s more than just the nuclear issue. For starters, there’s Yemen. Direct flights began in late February between Sanaa and Tehran, a first-ever development. The ambassadors from the Gulf Cooperation Council states have all relocated to Aden. A proxy war is developing with Iranian-backed Zaydi/Houthis against Saudi/UAE-backed Hadi remnants. Meanwhile al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is taking up the mantle of Sunni defenders. And then there’s ISIS and what the Saudis call America’s ‘unholy’ alliances with the Shia and Alawis.
It is a full agenda for the new Saudi king.