Saudi Arabia's Backstage Diplomacy

January 13, 1978

Report Outline
Role in Middle East Peace
Saudi Rise to World Power
Dilemmas of Saudi Leaders
Special Focus

Role in Middle East Peace

Sadat's Peace Initiative: Carter's Visit

Since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's dramatic visit to Jerusalem on Nov. 19, world attention has been riveted on the fast-moving chain of events precipitated by the new dialogue between Egypt and Israel. But decisions made in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, may have a greater impact on the chances for peace in the Middle East than the meetings between high-ranking Egyptian and Israeli officials. With almost a quarter of the world's proven reserves of oil and annual income from petroleum at about $40 billion, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has become the financier for the Arab confrontation states of Egypt, Syria and Jordan as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). And it is a major factor in the fate of the international economy.

The kingdom's political and economic leverage was first demonstrated after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Anwar Sadat has said that he started that war to refocus world attention on the Middle East. It was less the Arab armies than the Arab oil producers, led by Saudi Arabia, that brought a change in world, particularly American, attitudes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The embargo declared by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) on Oct. 17, 1973, was followed by a quadrupling of oil prices by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Saudi Arabia's price for lifting the embargo was a more active and even-handed American role in trying to achieve a Middle East settlement.

President Carter was doubtless aware of the similarities between 1973 and 1977–78 when he met with Saudi leaders in Riyadh on Jan. 3 and 4 during his recent trip abroad. President Sadat has again focused world attention on the Middle East and the Saudis are again calling upon the United States to put pressure on Israel to meet Arab demands for a withdrawal from all territories captured in the June 1967 war. Carter sought but did not receive Saudi Arabia's endorsement for Sadat's peace initiative. If that initiative fails and if the current stalemate continues or a fifth Arab-Israeli war erupts, the kingdom might again resort to using its oil weapon with consequences that could be far more devastating than in 1973.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Israel, Palestine, and Middle East Peace
Dec. 11, 2020  The Abraham Accords
Apr. 13, 2018  The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Mar. 09, 2018  Saudi Arabia's Uncertain Future
Jun. 21, 2013  Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
May 2009  Middle East Peace Prospects
Oct. 27, 2006  Middle East Tensions Updated
Jan. 21, 2005  Middle East Peace
Aug. 30, 2002  Prospects for Mideast Peace
Apr. 06, 2001  Middle East Conflict
Mar. 06, 1998  Israel At 50
Aug. 30, 1991  The Palestinians
Oct. 19, 1990  The Elusive Search for Arab Unity
Feb. 24, 1989  Egypt's Strategic Mideast Role
Apr. 15, 1988  Israel's 40-Year Quandary
Mar. 02, 1984  American Involvement in Lebanon
Nov. 12, 1982  Reagan's Mideast Peace Initiative
Apr. 23, 1982  Egypt After Sadat
Jan. 04, 1980  Divided Lebanon
Jul. 20, 1979  West Bank Negotiations
Dec. 01, 1978  Middle East Transition
Jan. 13, 1978  Saudi Arabia's Backstage Diplomacy
Oct. 29, 1976  Arab Disunity
May 16, 1975  Middle East Diplomacy
Sep. 13, 1974  Palestinian Question
Dec. 12, 1973  Middle East Reappraisal
Apr. 25, 1973  Israeli Society After 25 Years
Aug. 19, 1970  American Policy in the Middle East
Apr. 25, 1969  Arab Guerrillas
Aug. 02, 1967  Israeli Prospects
Jul. 06, 1966  Middle East Enmities
Apr. 14, 1965  Relations with Nasser
Aug. 17, 1960  Arab-Israeli Deadlock
May 27, 1959  Middle East Instability
Jun. 04, 1958  Nasser and Arab Unity
Oct. 02, 1957  Soviet Threat in Middle East
Sep. 18, 1956  Suez Dispute and Strategic Waterways
May 09, 1956  Middle East Commitments
Apr. 13, 1955  Middle East Conflicts
Mar. 31, 1954  Security in the Mideast
Oct. 23, 1952  Israel and the Arab States
Jan. 30, 1952  Egyptian Crisis and Middle East Defense
Mar. 17, 1948  Palestine Crisis
Feb. 18, 1946  Soviet Russia and the Middle East
Regional Political Affairs: Middle East and South Asia