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Riyadh and Washington: Pragmatism Among Other Things

Riyadh and Washington: Pragmatism Among Other Things

Saturday, 10 July, 2021 - 10:30

In recent days, and especially since President Biden's arrival to the White House, much has been said in the media about Saudi-US relations. Perhaps some of what has been suggested is true. However, it might be more correct to say that present circumstances, at this delicate stage, render it necessary for Riyadh and Washington to coordinate, cooperate and engage in dialogue because the two need each other.

Both parties are concerned with Gulf security, oil market stability and confronting terrorism and the threat of aggression by Iran and its terrorist proxies. This discussion coincides with a visit by a senior Saudi figure, Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Khalid bin Salman, to Washington. A few years ago, Prince Khalid served as ambassador to the United States, and he recently met with senior officials of the State Department, Department of Defense and White House.

This visit is crucial. Being the first for a Saudi official during Biden's term, the visit establishes the nature of cooperation and coordination with the current administration in the coming stage. A veteran politician himself, Biden had previously experienced the depth and history of this relationship and has closely lived through Saudi-US rapprochement in various stages while serving in various positions. However, despite the difficulties and turbulence that the relationship underwent in previous periods, the two states have been able to overcome all of these difficulties due to common interests and a pragmatic mindset.

The Saudi-US relationship goes beyond any administration or partisan pressures and is rather one of the important factors in US foreign policy. This is due to the fact that Washington pays close attention to its interests in the region and thus, deals closely with pivotal and influential states, such as Saudi Arabia - a key factor that cannot be overlooked. Seventy-seven years have elapsed since the historic meeting between the founding King Abdulaziz and former US President Franklin Roosevelt on board the Quincy - a historic moment that ushered in what was to come.

During Prince Khalid's recent visit, and according to the media, issues such as "security in Iraq and Syria and valuing Saudi efforts to end the war in Yemen, in addition to the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories," as well as Gulf states' concern about "the Biden administration's negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program" were put up for discussion.

The American message that emerged was clear from the words of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, as he affirmed the United States' commitment to the defense relationship with Saudi Arabia and his country's dedication to "work with Saudi Arabia to end the war in Yemen" and to "confront Iran's destabilizing activities in the region," condemning "cross-border attacks launched by Houthi militias with Iranian support."

After his meeting with Prince Khalid, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the importance of developing a strategic partnership with Riyadh and supporting efforts to maintain security and peace both regionally and internationally. Then following his meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Prince Khalid said the two "discussed mutual coordination within the framework of partnership between the two countries and the latest regional and international developments."

The visit, coming at an important time given the fact that direct meetings usually bear fruit, undoubtedly stirred the waters and cleared the clouds. This means the gradual disentanglement of positions based on an evaluation of relations between the two countries, against the background of past developments and those still unfolding in the region.

Here, we recall the great efforts that have been made by both parties over the past few years, especially Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's efforts to push for a reformulation of the relationship, arranging priorities and resolving issues in order to put things back in order at the time.

Today, we look forward to a responsible policy that puts the security and stability of the people of the region as a top priority. It is natural that there will be differences in perspective, but it is nonetheless crucial that communication, dialogue and these meetings continue.

There is an issue rooted in the US-Saudi relationship, which was previously expressed by the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Princess Reema bint Bandar when she said that "the biggest challenge facing the Kingdom in the United States is overcoming stereotypes and prejudices." Of course, while I maintain there is a gap in bilateral communications, this gap must be filled through painstaking, cumulative work and a strategy that covers all the bases.

The success of this mission requires contributions by other societal segments in order to deliver the message professionally. This is done through visits by delegations of civil society institutions in Saudi Arabia to the United States, in addition to activating parliamentary diplomacy and creating specialized and media research centers, not to mention the implantation of an influential lobby in the depth of America.

Today, the rules of the international game have changed, and there is a new positioning of international politics in the region. The relationship today is not in the place where we hoped for it to be, but it is also not on a hot plate as some have described it. Communication between the two states is urgently necessary for their recovery on the one hand, and due to its repercussions and impacts on the region and the world, on the other. Therefore, they cannot dispense with each other from the perspective of international relations, and this highlights the need for deep dialogue on the basis of clear and transparent understanding.

In order for the Biden administration to succeed in the region, it must read the present landscape well, abide by its commitments and distinguish between friend, ally and enemy. The US approach to the Iranian nuclear file, including the Vienna talks, will test the direction of the administration, rendering clear whether it is a duplicate of the Obama administration or has a new approach and vision.

It is no secret that there are actors and parties that do not wish for Saudi-US rapprochement because it is not in their interest. These parties are constantly attempting to drive a wedge between the two countries through old methods that are no longer capable of deceiving any. However, the statements made by officials in both countries are based on rationality and wisdom, which reflects the desire to build upon what was achieved in the past because their cooperation is a necessity - not a luxury. Pragmatism was, and remains, the great banner of this relationship.

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