Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Putting a Spoke in the Wheel of Saudi-U.S. Relations | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir deliver a statement after a meeting at the State Department in Washington, February 8, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Marking the first visit made by a United States President to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, in 1974, addressed the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz with a great deal of respect saying that people from all over the world have sought the Kingdom, however, Nixon distinguished his landmark stopover as one primarily driven by a quest for wisdom.

Good morals can be drawn from such a dramatic encounter found in the former royal protocol department undersecretary Abdurrahman al Hamoudi’s narrative “Al Dublomasiyya wal Marasem Suoodiya” (Arabic for Saudi Diplomacy and Customs). It speaks of the special relations shared by Riyadh and Washington that endured unbroken for 80 years after being anchored in shared strategic interests.

Saudi-U.S. relations have proven to be steady and strong even during harsh times, such as the 70’s oil crises, the September 11 attacks, and even during the turbulent Obama administration—ties with Saudi Arabia throughout 2009-2017 have been labeled as cold and not tense. Even though cold, former President Barack Obama visited Riyadh a total of three times, while Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz visited Washington twice during the Obama administration.

King Salman made his first visit upon his appointment as Defense Minister in 2011. His second trip to Washington was after officially taking reign in 2015. On significant Saudi Royals visiting the U.S. during the Obama presidency, the crown prince visited once and the deputy crown prince twice.

For a ‘cold’ status quo, Saudi-U.S. relations did good enough to strike envy among other countries—hoping their U.S. ties in dark hours would crystalize in the same manner.

On Jan 29, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump phoned Saudi King Salman in what evolved to be more than a mere protocol call, but an hour-long fruitful meeting on bilateral relations. In that long-distance call, the two heads of state outlined the character of future bilateral relations. What is more is that most of Trump’s regional stances were identical to those of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Popularly disputed topics with the Obama administration seem to have leveled out to an accord as soon as Mr. Trump stepped into the White House. Matters such as the Iran nuclear deal and counterterrorism efforts no longer reflect different U.S. and Saudi viewpoints.

Although the nuclear deal with Iran was meant to curb the country’s arms manufacture, it proved counterproductive as it has managed to build ballistic missiles that destabilize and threaten regional security. More so, under the Obama administration, fighting terrorism was selective and carried out in a one step forward, two steps back fashion.

Saudi Arabia fathoms the truth in the U.S. being a political, economic, military and technology superpower, and has established that its shared ties are core to Riyadh’s foreign policy. But one must keep in mind that the U.S. in turn also understands the central role played by the Kingdom in terms of sustaining regional stability across the scopes of politics, military, economy and security.

The U.S. realizes that the two countries’ relations are not centered on oil. Truth be told, the U.S. no longer needs Saudi oil for national consumption, but when speaking in terms of global economy a stabilizing 10 million bpd produced by the kingdom become indispensable. Today’s reality is that the international political, economic and security solidity are unsustainable without the Saudi played role.

Trump’s recent executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering U.S. grounds is controversial and has flooded U.S. media—but an attempt to pull Saudi Arabia into the heat of dispute, by viewing the ban as directed against the Kingdom, is just another try at sparking conflict between Washington and Riyadh.

Saudi citizens still go unaffected by the ban, given that the kingdom is not one of the listed Muslim-majority countries. Hence the ban has no direct effect against Saudi interests.

Today’s case is similar to that of (Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act) JASTA—Saudi Arabia did not jeopardize its relations with the U.S. administration based on fleeting reactions then, why would it now?!

The ban was largely condemned by Baghdad and Tehran, and those in line with their policy. Other Muslim-majority countries provided reasonable criticisms and not blunt disapproval. It seems that those affected by the ban are the one’s rallying against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia day in and day out, so it is only expected for them to try and drag the kingdom into a battle it is not remotely concerned with.

Even though Saudi-U.S. relations have naturally undergone tensions throughout the past eight decades, they never strayed from being the partnership clear in strategy.

More so, those tensions are what helped sustain relations with such great momentum.

These days Washington’s viewpoint on the Iran and counterterrorism files is consistent with Riyadh’s, which only reasserts the clarity and accuracy of Saudi stances. This strongly motivates restoring the alliance to its natural course, bolstering confidence and strengthening the partnership, after it had long stumbled due to the Obama administration’s indecision.