Instead, the Saudis plan to expand training facilities they operate in Jordan and increase the firepower of arms sent to rebel groups that are fighting extremist elements among them even as they battle the Syrian government, according to gulf officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve comity with the United States.
What officials described as a parallel operation independent of U.S. efforts is being discussed by the Saudis with other countries in the region, according to officials from several governments that have been involved in the talks.
Unhappiness over Syria is only one element of what officials said are varying degrees of disenchantment in the region with much of the administration’s Middle East policy, including its nuclear negotiations with Iran and criticism of Egypt’s new government.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry arrives in Saudi Arabia on Sunday on a hastily arranged visit — to include his first-ever meeting with King Abdullah on Monday — that is designed to smooth increasingly frayed U.S. relations with the kingdom.
Kerry will also stop in the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Israel, all of which have expressed concerned at what they see as a weakened U.S. posture in the region. The 11-day trip also includes visits to the West Bank, Poland, Algeria and Morocco.
Egyptian state media reported Friday that Kerry will begin his trip with a brief stop Sunday in Egypt, his first visit there since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi this summer. The State Department declined to confirm the visit.
Officials in several countries that had pledged to support a U.S. strike on Syrian targets after confirmation that President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons described their stunned reaction to Obama’s abrupt decision in late August to cancel the operation just days before its planned launch so he could ask for congressional agreement.
“We agreed to everything that we were asked . . . as part of what was going to take place,” said a senior Saudi official reached by telephone in the kingdom. Instead of the 10-to-12-hour warning before launch that the Americans had promised, the official said that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan “did not know about [the cancellation]. . . . We found out about it from CNN.”
Although the current policy differences are unlikely to be resolved soon, if at all, the Saudis derive part of their standing as a regional leader from their close ties to Washington. Kerry’s visit, in large part, is designed to publicly stroke that aspect of the Saudi image.