'Ilham Aliyev was the only Shiite among the Muslim leaders who gathered at the Riyadh summit last month' 

'Ilham Aliyev was the only Shiite among the Muslim leaders who gathered at the Riyadh summit last month' 

By Salman Bagirov

Azeri.Today interviews Thomas Lippman, famous American journalist, expert on the Middle East, the author of the book "Saudi Arabia on the edge: the uncertain future of the American ally".

- Mr. Lippman, why did the Middle East not represent so much interest for non-regional and regional players (USA, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia) until 2001? Why did the interest in this region increase the September 11 attacks?

- It is not true that there was little US interest in the region before 2001. The United States engineered the overthrow of the Mossadegh government in Iran, intervened in the Suez War of 1956, sent troops to Lebanon in 1958, worked with the Soviet Union to end the war of 1973, brokered the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and organized the war that drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait. In addition, of course, there was the longstanding US role in developing the oil in Saudi Arabia.

As for Turkey, it was long isolated from the Arabs because of its legacy of colonization and brutality --especially the executions of 1966 -- and by the policy of previous Turkish governments to associate themselves with Europe and seek membership in the European Union. The war in Syria has changed all that.

- The main military actions are being conducted in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, but the heaviest fighting is still in Syria and Iraq. Can you say what the war is in Syria and Iraq about? What do the Russians and Americans really want? Is the war connected to the gas pipeline?

- The wars in Iraq and Syria are not about any pipeline. They complicated power struggles. I don’t know what the Russians really want except to re-create their nation as a great power. As for the United States, the only clear goal is the isolation of Iran. Otherwise US policy is incoheret.

- Saudi Arabia and the United States concluded a major military deal worth $ 110 billion. What is now ahead of the Middle East, in particular Syria? What will this money be spend on?

- Don’t be fooled by the announcement of the $110 billion deal. Most of these transactions have been in the works since before Trump was president; they aren’t new. None of these weapons is likely to be used in Syria, where the Saudis have almost no military presence.

- Iran is gradually expanding its influence in the Middle Eastern region. Do you think the war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is possible? If not, why?

- It is not possible because the Saudis know that war with Iran would destroy their country. Iran has three times Saudi Arabia’s population and its military forces are much more effective. Iran’s missile-equipped gunboats could devastate the oil installations and water desalination plants all along Saudi Arabia’s Gulf coast. The Saudis and their allies the Emiratis don’t want any such conflict.

- And what do you know about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? How will the US-Azerbaijan relations develop under Trump?

- I have not thought much about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict since the Minsk agreement, which as far as I know was never implemented.

As for US -Azerbaijan relations, I doubt that Donald Trump could find Azerbaijan on a map. But you may have noticed that the Azeri president was the only Shiite among the Muslim leaders who gathered at the Riyadh summit last month. The answer to your question will depend on whether Azerbaijan lines up with Iran or not.

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