US prioritising Saudi ties ahead of presidential elections

Pompeo’s statement that the US hopes to have a fruitful strategic dialogue session with Saudi Arabia in October indicates America’s desire to expand cooperation with Riyadh on regional and international issues.
Wednesday 30/09/2020
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a meeting with President Donald Trump at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019. (REUTERS)
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a meeting with President Donald Trump at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019. (REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – The administration of US President Donald Trump views Saudi Arabia as a traditional ally that supports Washington’s policies in the Middle East and looks forward to engaging in strategic dialogue with Riyadh to revitalise their historic relations, despite attempts by pressure groups supported by influential parties in Washington to jeopardise the two countries’ alliance.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement that the US hopes to have a fruitful strategic dialogue session with Saudi Arabia in October indicates America’s desire to expand cooperation with Riyadh on regional and international issues.

Such a dialogue would likely invigorate Saudi-American relations after a series of setbacks that took place after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his country’s consulate in Istanbul.

Qatar-backed political circles in the US have worked to incite decision-makers in Washington against Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, who has been leading broad political, economic and social reforms.

Since June 2017, Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries have suspended trade, closed down diplomatic channels and blocked land, sea and air routes with Qatar. The boycotting countries accuse Doha of supporting terrorism by backing the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical groups.

On Tuesday, the US secretary of state said he had discussed the Abraham Accords with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, referring to the UAE and Bahrain’s agreements to normalise diplomatic relations with Israel. The US also hopes to see Riyadh join in with such an agreement.

“Good to speak with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan. We discussed the Abraham Accords, and I thanked him for Saudi Arabia’s work to advance peace in the south of Yemen. Looking forward to a productive Strategic Dialogue in October,” Pompeo said in a tweet.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz greets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 20. (REUTERS)
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz greets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 20. (REUTERS)

According to a report by the New York Times, US officials confirmed that the Trump administration is focusing its attention on Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries it hopes to see establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

US officials, however, said Saudi Arabia was not likely to join in on the Abraham Accords this year.

Observers say that the timing of the US’s strategic dialogue with Saudi Arabia is significant for Washington as Trump gears up for presidential elections in November, indicating that the president gives great importance to US-Saudi ties.

The US’s outreach to Saudi Arabia also comes at a time of increasing tensions with Iran due to its nuclear and missile programmes and its destabilising activities in the region.

The US administration is currently mobilising regionally and internationally to further tighten the screws on Tehran as it seeks to renegotiate a new, tougher nuclear agreement.

This month, the United States reactivated a snapback provision to reinstate sanctions on Iran imposed before the 2015 nuclear accord with major world powers. The move drew support from Israel but was opposed by 13 of the 15 countries on the UN Security Council.

The Iran nuclear deal, which was reached by the administration of former US President Barack Obama and then suspended by Trump, has been criticised by Riyadh for not limiting Iran’s interference in the Middle East or support of extremist and sectarian militias, whether in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq or Yemen.

Trump has close relations with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed, as they worked together to mend US-Saudi relations that deteriorated during the Obama era.

Differences, however, have emerged between the two countries, with the US reportedly beginning to move Patriot anti-missile systems, along with other military assets, from the kingdom in early May.

Observers say that Saudi Arabia has reviewed its relations with Washington and worked to diversify its foreign relations by building ties with China, India, Russia and France to be less dependent on one actor.

Trump’s term ends January 20, 2021. His challenger is Democratic nominee Joe Biden, with whom he held a chaotic first debate in Cleveland on Tuesday.