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Biden and Saudi Arabia...Differences are Possible but Alliance Is Stable

Biden and Saudi Arabia...Differences are Possible but Alliance Is Stable

Saturday, 6 February, 2021 - 12:00
Salman Al-Dossary
Salman Al-Dossary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

If one were to deal with politics per its fundamentals and principles, one would assess the new US administration’s positions starting from January 20, the day the new president took office. If one were to engage in “wishful thinking” and depend on previous statements made on the campaign trail, which US presidents typically frame in line with various electoral considerations during their campaigns, one would undoubtedly adopt an extremely negative outlook on Saudi-US relations.

On this basis, in his first declaration regarding the US relationship with the Kingdom as president, Joe Biden, delivered a speech on Thursday outlining his administration’s foreign policy priorities during which he pledged to maintain cooperation with the Kingdom, supporting it against the threats it faces, and protecting its sovereignty and its territory. This was not the first statement on ties with Saudi Arabia. Last Sunday, in its first official statement regarding relations with Saudi Arabia, Biden's administration announced it would help the Kingdom to hold those who launch attacks on its territory accountable. And the US State Department also said that it "strongly condemns the recent attack that targeted the Saudi capital, Riyadh.”

The two positions taken by the US administration in the same week perhaps surprised those “coming from behind”, and here I am referring to those projecting scenarios entirely based on their perceptions and maybe their wishes. As for those familiar with the realities of state alliances and how they are based on interests and calculations of gains and losses, they will certainly not be surprised by these two positive stances and will know that they are to be expected. Since the Kingdom only engages with statements issued by presidents after they take office and disregards those taken by candidates, it has gained the US president’s pledge to continue to cooperate with the Kingdom, support it in its confrontation of the threats it faces, and protect its sovereignty and territory.

Does this mean that Saudi and US positions are identical? Does it mean that there are no political differences between them? Certainly not.

Political differences - not disputes - naturally emerge between allies, no matter how strongly their political positions converge. Each country has its own view of dealing with differences over strategic issues, such as the war on terror, regional stability, global oil market stability, Iranian expansionism, and other issues. Washington’s temporary review of arms sales to the Kingdom was expected, as this decision had been taken during many previous transitional stages, new US administrations go over existing policies before making their final decision.

Regarding the war in Yemen, what does it mean when the US President says that he would end “all the US support for offensive operations”? Of course, the US administration has the right to take the position it deems appropriate, just as Saudi Arabia has the right to take a stance that preserves its security and stability; noting that the Houthi coup against the legitimate government in Yemen sparked the war.

Throughout the entirety of the conflict, all the United Nations’ political solutions were accepted by all members, demonstrating the US determination to end this support. Washington hopes to strengthen diplomatic efforts to end the war in Yemen, mirroring Saudi’s position to support a comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni crisis. In a statement issued by the Kingdom in support of the US position, emphasizing the importance of diplomatic efforts for resolving the crisis, Riyadh affirmed that it “has taken several vital steps in this context, to enhance opportunities for progress on the political track, including the coalition’s announcement of unilateral ceasefire in response to the request of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.”

Even though they differ about the details regarding the war in Yemen, Washington and Riyadh agreed to support diplomatic efforts to end the war. The US President’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, announced that the US administration has consulted with senior Saudi officials on this matter. If this is not high-level coordination and harmony between two ally countries, then what is it?

Having served in the Senate for 35 years, then as Vice President in the Obama administration, there is no doubt that President Biden has immense political experience. With this board experience, he is well aware that the US is in dire need of an ally in the region that plays a stabilizing role in the region and across the world, an ally like Saudi Arabia. The two countries agree on strategic issues and disagree on minor issues.

Each country has its interests that it is entitled to preserve, and there is no dispute over whether Saudi Arabia has always been able to impose its political realism on its historic alliance with the United States. It has the tools to preserve its interests and maintain its allies, keep them clinging to it as it clings to them. Alliance is not a mere exchange of favors between one state and another. Rather, it stems from mutual interest and the capabilities and elements of power possessed by the ally, which even superpowers need and cannot do without.

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