Counterterrorism Adviser Brennan’s Meeting With Saudi King Abdullah Origin

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Classified By: Pol Counselor Lisa Carle, 1.4(b),(d)

¶1. KEY POINTS

— (S) Saudi King Abdullah welcomed White House
counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, S/WCI Ambassador
Williamson, and Ambassador Fraker to his private palace March
15 for a 90-minute discussion focused on U.S.
Saudi-relations,
counterterrorism cooperation, the Yemeni Guantanamo Bay
detainees, Iran, and Iraq.

— (S) Brennan presented the King with a letter from
President Obama expressing a personal message of
friendship, appreciation for our close and collaborative
relationship and concern over the disposition of Yemeni
detainees at Guantanamo.

— (S) The King said he had told Iranian Foreign Minister
Mottaki only minutes before that Iran should stop
interfering in Arab affairs, and had given Iran a one-year
deadline to improve its relations with Saudi Arabia.

— (S) The King expressed a complete lack of trust in Iraqi
PM al-Maliki and held out little hope for improved
Saudi/Iraqi relations as long as al-Maliki remains in office.

— (S) When asked what advice he had for President Obama, the
King said he had “one request”: that it was
“critically important to restore America’s credibility” in
the world.

U.S. SAUDI RELATIONS

¶2. (S) PLEDGES OF FRIENDSHIP: Brennan asserted that the
U.S./Saudi alliance must remain strong, and assured the King
of President Obama’s wishes for a long and healthy U.S./Saudi
relationship, and the President’s personal commitment that
Saudi Arabia had a friend in the White House. The King
replied that he appreciated the sentiments and that he had
great respect for President Obama. “We (the U.S. and Saudi
Arabia) spilled blood together” in Kuwait and Iraq, the King
continued, and Saudi Arabia valued this tremendously.
Friendship can be a difficult issue that requires work,
Abdullah said, but the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have done it for
70 years over three generations. “Our disagreements don,t
cut to the bone,” he stated.

¶3. (S) U.S. CREDIBILITY IS CRITICAL: The Bush
Administration is now in the past, the King said. Both
President Bushes were his friends, but the recent President
Bush didn,t take his advice on dealing with issues in the
region, and they found their problems “compounded.” The King
said, “we are ready to consult, provide guidance and to do
whatever is necessary. We are people of the region and we
know it well.” Brennan responded that President Obama wants
to listen, and asked what advice the King would offer to
President Obama. Abdullah said his one piece of advice was
that restoring U.S. credibility in the world was critically
important. Brennan responded that this was an important issue
for President Obama as well. Brennan said that under
President Obama we will restore our credibility. He said the
U.S. is a great country and we know what we have to do.

¶4. (S) THE WORLD NEEDS OBAMA: Brennan said President Obama
looked forward to seeing the King at the G-20 summit in
London. “Thank God for bringing Obama to the presidency,”
the King answered, which has created “great hope” in the
Muslim world. “May God grant him strength and patience,
Abdullah continued, “May God protect him. I’m concerned
about his personal safety. America and the world need such a
president.”

¶5. (C) THAT WITHOUT WHICH NO SAUDI MEETING IS COMPLETE:
Abdullah said “as a friend” that “it was a mistake” to limit
access of Saudi citizens to the U.S., since “this damages
bilateral relations and the image of the U.S. in Saudi
Arabia.” The King noted there were 60,000 Saudi students
abroad, about one third of whom were in the U.S., and “others
would have gone” but for the difficulties in gaining access
to the U.S. The King noted that for many years very senior
Saudi officials, including Prince Saud al-Faisal, had studied
in the U.S. He then noted that Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.,
Adel al Jubeir (who was interpreting for the King) had
studied in the U.S. and was “half American” as a result. He
also said he was aware of, and appreciated, Ambassador
Fraker’s efforts to improve the visa situation “even though
there were people in Washington who fought him.” Finally, he
observed that anyone from Saudi Arabia who studies in the
U.S. inevitably becomes a friend and advocate of the United
States and that we only hurt ourselves by cutting off this
flow of students.

DETAINEES

¶6. (S) GUANTANAMO WILL BE CLOSED: Brennan explained that
President Obama had made a commitment to close Guantanamo to
eliminate the potential propaganda benefits its existence
provided to Al-Qaeda, but also because it was the right thing
to do. Brennan reassured the King, however, that President
Obama would remain strong on counterterrorism. Brennan
presented the King with a letter from President Obama
addressing the issue of Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo.
Brennan noted that he had met with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef
(MbN) the day before to discuss at length The issue of the
Yemeni detainees. Brennan further stated that he would be
traveling to Sanaa the next day to meet with President Saleh,
as the issue of the remaining 99 Yemeni detainees still needed
to be resolved. Brennan praised MbN as an outstanding
counterterrorism partner, and that the MOI was doing a
wonderful, courageous job in countering the terrorist threat
to the Kingdom. Returning to the subject later in the
conversation, Brennan warned that the U.S. feared Yemen could
become another Waziristan, and urged that the U.S. and Saudi
Arabia needed to work together to keep Al-Qaeda in Yemen from
growing even more dangerous. The King replied that having
Somalia next door to Yemen only adds to the danger. Brennan
said that the capabilities of the Ministry of the Interior
security forces had grown impressively over the past 10
years. Brennan added that counterterrorism and intelligence
sharing cooperation between our countries had never been
better and that MbN deserved the credit. In an unusual
concession, made at the conclusion of their conversation, the
King said, “be assured I am fully briefed on the work you are
doing with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.”

¶7. (S) HOW TO TRACK DETAINEES: “I’ve just thought of
something,” the King added, and proposed implanting
detainees with an electronic chip containing information
about them and allowing their movements to be tracked with
Bluetooth. This was done with horses and falcons, the King
said. Brennan replied, “horses don,t have good lawyers,”
and that such a proposal would face legal hurdles in the
U.S., but agreed that keeping track of detainees was an
extremely important issue that he would review with
appropriate officials when he returned
to the United States.

IRAN

¶8. (S) A “HEATED EXCHANGE”: The King noted that Iranian FM
Mottaki had been “sitting in that same seat
(as Brennan) a few moments ago.” The King described his
conversation with FM Mottaki as “a heated exchange, frankly
discussing Iran’s interference in Arab affairs.” When
challenged by the King on Iranian meddling in Hamas affairs,
Mottaki apparently protested that “these are Muslims.” “No,
Arabs” countered the King, “You as Persians have no business
meddling in Arab matters.” The King said the Iranians wanted
to improve relations and that he responded by giving Mottaki
an ultimatum. “I will give you one year” (to improve ties),
“after that, it will be the end.”

¶9. (S) “SPARE US YOUR EVIL”: The King expressed hope the
U.S. would review its Iran policy and “come to the right
conclusion.” Brennan responded that President Obama was
personally reviewing U.S. Iran policy and wanted to hear the
King’s thoughts. Abdullah asserted that Iran is trying to
set up Hizballah-like organizations in African countries,
observing that the Iranians don’t think they are doing
anything wrong and don’t recognize their mistakes. “I said
(to Mottaki) that’s your problem,” recounted the King.
Abdullah said he would favor Rafsanjani in an Iranian
election, were he to run. He described Iran not as “a
neighbor one wants to see,” but as “a neighbor one wants to
avoid.” He said the Iranians “launch missiles with the hope
of putting fear in people and the world.” A solution to the
Arab/Israeli conflict would be a great achievement, the King
said, but Iran would find other ways to cause trouble.
“Iran’s goal is to cause problems,” he continued, “There is
no doubt something unstable about them.” He described Iran
as “adventurous in the negative sense,” and declared “May God
prevent us from falling victim to their evil.” Mottaki had
tendered an invitation to visit Iran,
but Abdullah said he replied “All I want is for you to spare
us your evil.” Summarizing his history with Iran,
Abdullah concluded: “We have had correct relations over the
years, but the bottom line is that they cannot be trusted.”

¶10. (S) AN EMPTY CHANNEL: The King said “three years ago”
Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei had sent his adviser Ali
Akbar Velayati with a letter asking for Abdullah’s agreement
to establish a formal back channel for
communication between the two leaders. Abdullah said he had
agreed, and the channel was established with Velayati and
Saudi FM Saud al-Faisal as the points of contact. In the
years since, the King noted, the channel had never been used.

¶11. (S) A DANGEROUS NEIGHBORHOOD: Brennan responded that
the Saudis lived in a dangerous neighborhood with Iran across
the Gulf, with Saudi Arabia sharing a long border with Yemen,
and with a number of other troublesome countries nearby.
Brennan noted that we have a lot of work to do in the Middle
East together. The King responded that the world,s
attention was focused on the region. He further stated that
he believed that the U.S. could help in this sensitive
region, but that we should not take matters lightly. Brennan
noted that President Obama is fully aware of the dangers in
the region, that the U.S. knew that it had to remain involved
in constructing a solution, and that we would seek the
King,s counsel in dealing with the many issues in the Middle
East. The King asked if that included Iran. Brennan
responded that it did. Brennan said that we had our eyes
wide open to Iranian ambitions, that we were not nave to the
dangers Iran posed to Saudi Arabia, and that Iran could not
be allowed to succeed in its destabilizing activites.
Brennan observed that the President had ordered a complete
review of U.S. Iran policy and made reference to a passage in
the President,s letter that we needed to test Iran,s
intentions to cease its destabilizing behavior and live up to
its international obligations. Brennan further observed that
the U.S.-Saudi partnership had to remain strong and that
together, and with others, we needed to thwart Iran,s
nuclear ambitions. “That is important,” responded the King.
Finally, Brennan said the President wanted the King to know
he had a good friend in the White House who would be willing
to assist in any way that he could. The King thanked Mr.
Brennan, said he appreciated the sentiments, said that he had
great respect for President Obama, and reflected that we had
been great friends for many years and would remain friends as
our disagreements were minor.

¶12. (U) SEE REFTEL: Ref A provided a separate readout on
the Iran discussion and the King’s meeting with Mottaki.

IRAQ

¶13. (S) IN THE HANDS OF GOD AND IRAN: Brennan expressed the
importance the U.S. attaches to achieving peace and stability
in Iraq. The King replied that this was “in the hands of
God,” though he agreed that Iraq was vitally important to
both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The King also pointed out
that “some say the U.S. invasion handed Iraq to Iran on a
silver platter; this after we fought Saddam Hussein.”

¶14. (S) NO HOPE FOR MALIKI: The King said he had “no
confidence whatsoever in (Iraqi PM) Maliki, and the
Ambassador (Fraker) is well aware of my views.” The King
affirmed that he had refused former President Bush’s
entreaties that he meet with Maliki. The King said he had
met Maliki early in Maliki’s term of office, and the Iraqi
had given him a written list of commitments for
reconciliation in Iraq, but had failed to follow through on
any of them. For this reason, the King said, Maliki had no
credibility. “I don,t trust this man,” the King stated,
“He’s an Iranian agent.” The King said he had told both Bush
and former Vice president Cheney “how can I meet with someone
I don,t trust?” Maliki has “opened the door for Iranian
influence in Iraq” since taking power, the King said, and he
was “not hopeful at all” for Maliki, “or I would have met
with him.”

AN ALERT AND ENGAGING HOST

¶15. (S) I MISS MY HORSES: The King appeared alert and at
times animated, entertaining his guests with anecdotes about
his encounters with Iranian leaders (septel), and throwing up
his hands in complaint when asked if he spent time with his
horses: “I see them on television when they race,” he said.
“I love horses,” he exclaimed, “every couple of weeks I get
to see them, and then I have a very calm and restful sleep.”

¶16. (S) DIALOGUE AND REFORM AS DUTY: In response to
Brennan,s praise for the King,s interfaith dialogue
initiative, his commitment to advancing rights as reflected
by his recent appointment of the first female (deputy
education) minister, the King said “Thanks for the sentiment
but I did nothing special, only what I thought was my duty.
I believe we do our duty as determined by God.”

¶17. (S) PARTICIPANTS:

Saudi Arabia
— Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin
Abdulaziz al-Saud
— HRH Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud,
Assistant Minister of the Interior
— Ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir (interpreter)

U.S.
— John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland
Security and Counterterrorism
— Ambassador Ford Fraker
— Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues Clint Williamson
— John Duncan, NSC Director for Counterterrorism
— Shaun Coughlin, Special Assistant, S/WCI
— Embassy control officer/notetaker

¶18. (U) Assistant to the President Brennan cleared this
cable.

FRAKER