In a discussion concerning heated regional issues and especially the issue of reform, the American President, George W. Bush asserted to his guest, the Kuwaiti Head of the Ministers Council, Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jabir Al Sabah that, "We have strong relations with the Saudi leadership. I am working on all fronts to improve relations between American and Saudi society. I promise that this will take place before the end of my presidential term." On his part, Sheikh Sabah advised the American administration to leave the issue of reform in the Gulf and particularly in Saudi Arabia to the people of those countries so as not to rock the boat in these already troubled waters.
The visit of the Kuwaiti official to the White House, dealt with
A number of major issues. It seemed that Sheikh Sabah had specific messages for the White House from Syria and Iran, and even Jordan, which until recently, has been was perceived as a hostile country by the Kuwaitis, because of its stance during Saddam”s invasion of Kuwait. Sheikh Sabah requested from the United States that it grant Bashar Al Asad enough time to carry out reforms. In response to the request of the United States for Arabs to establish embassies in Iraq, Sheikh Sabah told Bush that Syria might be close to opening one. The White House, however, expressed its concern that a Syrian embassy in Iraq may become a center for coordination and support for Iraqi resistance and terrorism. It is clear that while the White House seeks Arab recognition of the Iraqi regime, it is concerned about the influence of certain countries. As for Kuwait, it has already opened an embassy in Iraq and has already designated an ambassador. According to an informed source, Iraq will do the same in the near future.
Kuwait also asked American administration to give the new Iranian elected president a chance to establish himself, however, the White House is under serious pressure from its people to take a tough position against the new Iranian president who many Americans are calling a "hostage taker" through the American media at least.
Concerning the Arab Israeli conflict, the White House asked
Kuwait to play a larger role in supporting the active parties, especially in Jordan by providing for Jordan”s oil needs. It seems that Jordan seeks to substitute the oil that it used to get from Iraq, for oil from Kuwait and from the Gulf in general. According to one of the sources, Kuwait agreed to support Jordan and King Abdullah the second to implement the reform program as well as to play a productive role in the Middle East Peace Process.
It is no secret that there are strong ties between Mohamed Al Sabah the Kuwaiti foreign Minister, and Dr. Marwan Al Ma”shar, the Jordanian Minister of the Palace who was formerly the country”s foreign minister. He was also a colleague of Mohamed Al Sabah for a while in Washington when both worked as ambassadors for their countries to the United States. It seems that with the support of the White House, which plays a substantial role, the relationship between Al Ma”shar and Mohamed Al Sabah is the way to improve Kuwaiti-Jordanian relations.
However, the main purpose of the visit was for Kuwait to present itself as a model for economic, political, and media reform not only to the Arab world, but also to demonstrate the political and economic development that any Gulf country could achieve. As a political model, Kuwait had gained acceptance from the White House, however, as an economic model, some clear demands were made by the White House.
According to American Sources, after Kuwaiti women managed to acquire their political rights, major parties in the US administration started to perceive Kuwait as a political role model in the Gulf region. However, on the economic front, the White House demanded Kuwait to change its labor policy and laws. In this respect, Kuwait is obliged to rearrange its laws to international standards with respect to labor conditions and rights and in fact, the Americans requested that it sign international agreements in particular. The White House also asked Kuwait to open its markets to foreign investments within Kuwait without conditions, a request which I highly doubt Kuwait is capable of acting upon at least in the short term. The Americans also requested that the Kuwaitis invest in the oil refineries of America to which I believe the Kuwaitis may have already agreed to, however I cannot confirm this last point. What is for certain, however, is that when the official meetings were over, the Americans further demanded that Kuwait add banks and insurance firms to areas of open investments if Kuwait was serious in presenting itself as an economic model in the Gulf and if it wanted support from the United States.
Therefore, in this visit, Kuwait has presented itself as both a political and economic model, as a coordinator of many of the American policies in the region and this was the main purpose of the visit. The visit could also be portrayed as part of the competition between Gulf States to present themselves as America”s representative in the region.
The Kuwaitis enjoy the confidence of the White House as they have fulfilled their promise of toppling Saddam”s regime. Kuwait closed 60% of their borders to facilitate the mission of the American army, donated half a billion U.S dollars to humanitarian aid in Iraq, and cancelled two thirds of Iraqi debt to Kuwait which was estimated at 25 billion US dollars.
It is also possible that Kuwait will play a coordinative role in the region especially considering that some Americans want to compensate Kuwait for its strong support of the Americans and the Iraqi people against Saddam. On the other hand, Turkey, despite being America”s ally, denied American soldiers access to cross over to Iraq through Turkey. It may be for this reason that the United States chose Kuwait as a non-NATO strategic ally.
The Head of the Council of Ministers accompanied the young Information Minister, Anas Al Rashid, on the visit. Dr Anas Al Rashid, who wrote for American newspapers and spoke to the American media, said that his task was to deconstruct the ministry of information rather than support it. The young American graduate minister was favored by the Americans because his appointment would assist in the reforms led by Sheikh Sabah, especially in expanding political participation so that it can include complete participation of women to be ministers, electors or members of the council. Also, the move will advance the liberalization of media and its independency from the state and facilitate its development so as to resemble the media arena of Dubai.
To encourage Kuwait as a reform model in the Gulf as America aspires it to be and as a trade, financial and media center was the basic aim behind the visit. It seems that the visit made by a prime minister of such a minor state will have major consequences.