The Landlords of the Middle East Crises

After a horse belonging to the royal family won a gold cup and the ensuing celebrations wound down, Saudi King Abdullah was asked whether he could persuade Iran to change its nuclear policy, or whether Ahmadinejad would convince Abdullah to help Iran in the face of sanctions. This was a main topic of conversation during Ahmadinejad's visit to Saudi Arabia on his way from Sudan. It is another phase in the negotiations over recent weeks between the two figures who have become the landlords of a solution to the crises in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia insists on an international tribunal on the murder of Rafiq Hariri. Syria, which fears it could be held responsible for the murder, is against it. As long as Syrian opposition to the tribunal remains, Hezbollah will continue to impair the functioning of the Lebanese government.

Since Saudi Arabia is not talking to Bashar Assad, Abdullah will ask Ahmadinejad to pressure Syria and Hezbollah. Iran, which has hinted that it would not oppose such a tribunal, will help, but wants something in return. One demand is a unity government in Lebanon with veto power for the opposition. The Saudi compromise might establish that the right to veto not to be extended to the establishment of the tribunal.

A conference on Iraq of historic proportions is to convene in Baghdad this weekend, with Iranian and Syrian representatives along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice among the attendees. Iran wants to use the opportunity to legitimize its role as a regional leader, capable of replacing the U.S. as a stabilizing power in Iraq.

But the party asking for Iran's help in Iraq will find it difficult to impose sanctions on it because of nuclear transgressions. Here is where intervention by the Saudis, who also fear Iran's nuclear capabilities, is needed to propose that Iran tone down the nuclear issue and the U.S. withhold discussion of sanctions until after the conference.

Iran and the Saudis are essentially in agreement on the Palestinian issue. Iran has welcomed the Mecca agreement, and its pledge of $240 million to the Hamas government will apparently also be provided to a unity government.