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88 Years of Saudi-US Partnership | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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US President Franklin Roosevelt with King Abdul Aziz aboard the USS Quincy in 1945. (Getty Images)

Washington – According to the US State Department, Washington recognized Saudi Arabia in 1931. Two years later, the countries signed a diplomatic and consular representation agreement.

In 1940, the first diplomatic ties between them were established after permanent diplomatic missions were sent to each country. Bert Fish was the first American diplomat dispatched to the Kingdom.

In 1942, the US mission was expanded in Jeddah and in 1949 the first embassy was set up there.

In 1984, the embassy was moved to Riyadh and the mission in Jeddah was turned into a consulate.

The diplomatic developments coincided with economic ones. In 1933, the California-Arabian Standard Oil (CASOC) company began searching for oil in eastern Saudi Arabia. The company was later renamed the Arabian American Oil Co. (Aramco).

The US government was not initially much interested in oil production, but the beginning of World War II changed this. In 1943, US President Franklin Roosevelt announced: “The defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States.”

On February 2, 1945, King Abdul Aziz al-Saud met Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy destroyer, marking an important turning point in the development of relations between the two countries. In addition to discussing political and economic issues, personal ties between the two leaders developed during that meeting.

King Abdul Aziz’s Illness

Evidence of this relationship was demonstrated during the king’s illness. In 1950, US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia dispatched a message to the State Department, requesting medical assistance for his chronic arthritis.

The Department of Defense later sent military and medical experts to King Abdul Aziz. US President Harry Truman even sent his personal physician, Wallace Graham, to head this medical delegation.

Indeed, the king’s health gradually improved. He slowly began to rely less on his wheelchair and started to move with more ease.

King Saud

The Tripartite Aggression, launched by Britain, France and Israel, against Egypt in 1956 took place during the reign of King Saud. The three countries attacked Egypt after President Gamal Abdul Nasser ordered the naturalization of the Suez Canal. A year later, King Saud traveled to the United States, the first of its kind by a Saudi king, where he met President Dwight Eisenhower. He hailed the American leader’s opposition to the offensive and his pressure for the three countries to end it.

Eisenhower said in a message to King Saud that the United States will not remain silent over an Israeli aggression against an Arab country. He cited US intervention in halting the Tripartite Aggression, vowing to halt any similar attacks in the future.

King Faisal

The June 1967 War and the October War of 1973 erupted under the reign of King Faisal.

Egypt and Syria attacked Israel to regain their occupied land. They enjoyed the backing of Arab countries that stopped sending oil to the US and Europe in 1973. Egypt and Syria, and later Israel, each signed disengagement agreements. Arab countries then resumed oil shipments in 1974.

King Faisal had repeatedly demanded in his correspondence with US President Richard Nixon and during his meeting with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that Israel withdraw from Arab land it had occupied in 1967.

King Khalid

King Khalid followed in the footsteps of his brother Faisal by repeatedly bringing up the issue of Israel with US officials. In 1975, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger threatened to occupy Saudi oil wells in wake of the increase in petroleum prices and tensions in the region that had been ongoing since 1973.

Kissinger sought to contain the backlash over Schlesinger’s statements by stressing that the American policy does not include threatening Arab friends. It instead relies on cooperation in spite of disputes.

King Abdullah

Perhaps the most important meeting between Saudi Arabia and the US took place between then Crown Prince Abdullah and President George W. Bush at his Crawford ranch in Texas in 2002 in wake of the September 11 attacks.

Prince Abdullah had “bluntly” demanded that Washington decrease its support to Israel or face dire consequence throughout the Arab world. He warned Bush that if the US does not exert more efforts to rein in the military campaign waged by then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon against Palestinians, the United States will lose more credibility in the Middle East and create more instability.

Adel al-Jubair, then foreign policy consultant to the crown prince, said after the meeting that the Israeli operations “do not serve American interests or Saudi ones.”

Bush later told reporters that his talks with the crown prince established strong personal ties and bolstered the friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

King Salman

Former US President Barack Obama met King Salman in 2012 and 2016 at a time when ties between the two sides were strained over the Iranian nuclear deal.

The telephone call King Salman received from President Donald Trump in late January played a major role in bolstering ties between the two countries.

They discussed the historic ties between them and regional and international developments.

They were in agreement over a number of issues, including the war against terrorism and extremism.