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Iran and the U.S.-Saudi Relationship

Interviewer: Paul B. Stares, General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewee: F. Gregory Gause III, Professor of Political Science, University of Vermont
February 1, 2012

The U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia, increasingly strained since the Arab upheavals last spring, faces further challenges over how to respond to Iran's nuclear ambitions, says F. Gregory Gause III, professor of political science at the University of Vermont.

"The Saudis would certainly see Iran crossing the nuclear threshold as a major security challenge," says Gause, author of the Council on Foreign Relations special report "Saudi Arabia in the New Middle East." "If our American interest is in preventing proliferation, we have to start talking to the Saudis very quickly about their options and our options if Iran were to cross that threshold."

Gause says the United States will likely need to provide "some kind of formal American guarantee of Gulf security, Saudi security, Gulf state security in general to try to dissuade the Saudis from trying to pursue their own nuclear capability."

The Saudis' competition with Iran also shapes their view of the changes taking place throughout the Middle East, Gause says. "They view upheaval throughout the region through the lens of whether this is going to help Iran or hurt Iran, because they see Iran as their major geo-political challenge in the region," he explains. Gause says that this is the main reason the Saudis "are supportive of regime change in Syria, because that would hurt Iran's position."

However, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are at odds when it comes to preventing change in the region's monarchies, Gause says. The Saudi deployment of troops into Bahrain to support the Bahraini government last year created tensions with the United States, he says.


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