WASHINGTON, (AFP) — The key diplomatic relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States is in “good shape” despite “scratchy” disagreements over Arab Spring revolutions, a senior US official said Friday.
President Barack Obama and Saudi King Abdullah also have a very good understanding, US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said, days after new concern emerged over one of America’s most vital Middle Eastern alliances.
“I would be less than honest if I didn’t indicate there were disagreements about how the United States should go about handling” uprisings against longtime Arab leaders, Donilon said at an Economic Club lunch in Washington.
“I think it is fair to say, and I have said this publicly before, that our conversations with the Saudis about this were scratchy.
“There were some disagreements about this.”
Analysts say Saudi Arabia was angered at the Obama administration after it distanced itself from long-time Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak — a linchpin of US security policy in the region, before he was deposed.
But Donilon said that it had since become clear that the turmoil and revolt sweeping the Arab world was an indigenous uprising, and was not orchestrated by the United States or any other external forces.
“I have talked directly with the leadership of Saudi Arabia… and I think the relationship is in very good shape. Why? I think because it is based in shared strategic interests,” he said.
“We have had a relationship for 70 years based on a set of shared strategic interests.”
Donilon expressed optimism that the key allies would get past earlier disagreements, pointing to the “very good relationship” between Obama and King Abdullah.
Speculation over the state of relations between Washington and Riyadh were stirred again this week when the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, wrote a blistering New York Times opinion piece.
He warned that if Washington carried out its threat to use its veto to halt the Palestinian drive for statehood recognition in the UN Security Council, it would put at risk Saudi-US cooperation in numerous areas.
“The ‘special relationship’ between Saudi Arabia and the United States would increasingly be seen as toxic by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, who demand justice for the Palestinian people,” Prince Turki wrote.
In the commentary headlined “Veto a State, Lose an Ally,” he warned that Saudi cooperation with the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and the Gulf could also be at risk.