Stories by Robert Malley

Expert Voices

Saudi crown prince betting on Trump to help resolve Khashoggi crisis

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, on October 16, 2018.
Secretary of State Pompeo meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, on October 16, 2018. Photo: Leah Millis/AFP via Getty Images

If U.S.–Saudi relations depended solely on President Trump’s and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) wishes, the tragic Khashoggi affair would likely have blown over by now. But Congress and the U.S. media appear unwilling to let that happen, while MBS' opponents in Saudi Arabia might seize on this fiasco to question his fitness to rule.

The big picture: MBS is gambling that he can escape this crisis by doubling down on support for the Trump administration's policies — confronting Iran, making up for lost Iranian oil, and bankrolling U.S. efforts in northeast Syria, among others. This approach could work with Trump, who concocted the story of potential rogue agents as culprits and compared the unjust treatment of MBS to that of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But it remains to be seen whether attempts to smooth relations at the top can withstand tensions from below.

Expert Voices

What Saudi Arabia's position means for Trump's Israel–Palestine strategy

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during talks at the Grand Kremlin Palace on October 5, 2017 in Moscow, Russia.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the Kremlin on October 5, 2017, in Moscow, Russia. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov via Getty Images

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman reportedly made clear he would not pressure the Palestinian leadership to accept the long-anticipated, not yet unveiled U.S. peace plan. Although the plan is under wraps, the bulk of available information suggests it likely will cross several Arab redlines: a lack of Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem’s Old City or holy sites, an open-ended Israeli security presence in the West Bank, and no evacuation of Israeli settlements.

The big picture: American officials hoped — and Palestinian leaders feared — that Riyadh would back the proposal and twist Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ arm to accept it. That’s because some Saudi leaders had told U.S. counterparts that they viewed the Israeli–Palestinian conflict as an obstacle to working with Israel toward the priority goal of countering Iran. But Riyadh typically displays greater flexibility when speaking to Americans in private, and King Salman’s predictable decision to reassure the Palestinian leadership thus came as comfort to Abbas and a disappointment to the U.S. team.

Expert Voices

Slim prospects for Syria headway at Trump-Putin summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets President of Syria Bashar Al-Assad in Sochi, Russia, on May 17, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Sochi, Russia, on May 17, 2018. Photo: Kremlin Press Office/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Backed by Russian airpower, the Assad regime has begun retaking Syria's rebel-controlled southwest. Using a mix of infiltration, negotiated surrenders and brute military force, the regime has overrun nearly all of the rebel-held southwest’s eastern sector, displacing more than 270,000. The western sector adjacent to the Israeli-occupied Golan is likely next.

Why it matters. Syria’s southwest corner, abutting Jordan and Israel, is where the uprising began seven years ago. For the Syrian regime, this marks one of the last chapters of this phase of the war, in which Assad seeks to reconquer all territory unprotected by foreign boots on the ground. With the northwest overseen by Turkey and the northeast controlled by U.S.–backed Kurdish forces, that leaves only this southwest pocket up for grabs.