US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf defended Washington’s policy in the Middle East and stressed that her country realizes that its partners in the region face real security threats.
The diplomat revealed that the US Central Command is working to establish an integrated security structure for the Middle East, of which Saudi Arabia is a central part.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Leaf said that the US-Saudi relations have been strategic for decades and over generations. Both the US and the Kingdom are working to ensure that relations remain dynamic, strong, and capable of facing common challenges in the future.
While she reaffirmed that Iran would not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, Leaf pointed out that Tehran sending drones and other weapons to Russia impacts Gulf security. Alarmingly, Iran may receive support for its defense industry and its ability to further destabilize the region in return for aiding Russia.
Highlighting the strong ties between Washington and Riyadh, Leaf said that this relationship brought countless benefits for the US and Saudi Arabia.
The US-Saudi relationship encompasses multiple interests ranging from regional security to economic cooperation.
According to Leaf, Saudi Arabia is the US’s largest trading partner in the Gulf region, not only in oil and gas but in newer areas as well, such as green hydrogen, electric vehicles, and entertainment.
The US diplomat also pointed to the two countries sharing a robust security partnership, demonstrated recently by the effective deterrence of an Iranian attack on the Kingdom.
More broadly, the US maintains its unwavering commitment to strengthening Saudi defenses and helping to enable security throughout the region, asserted Leaf. Together, the US and Saudi Arabia have fought terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Leaf verified that cooperation with the Kingdom is ongoing and mentioned that high-level meetings took place on Feb. 13 and 16.
A senior US delegation had gone to Riyadh to participate in the talks on defense issues, Iran, and combating terrorism, which reflects, once again, Washington’s permanent commitment to the region and the depth of consultation and cooperation.
Leaf stressed her country’s dedication to helping Saudi Arabia defend its people and lands.
The US is aware that its regional partners face several security threats, which are further complicated by changes in technology.
In recent years, hundreds of cross-border attacks have compromised civilian infrastructure, schools, mosques, and workplaces, putting the civilian population in Saudi Arabia and the neighboring UAE at risk.
This threat also affects tens of thousands of US citizens residing in the Gulf states, noted Leaf, affirming that their safety is one of the highest national security priorities of the US.
Regarding the conflict in Yemen, Leaf said that the US remains committed to supporting a lasting solution through a comprehensive UN-sponsored intra-Yemeni political process that promotes justice and accountability.
She welcomed concerted Saudi efforts to help end the war in Yemen.
These efforts include Saudi support for an UN-mediated truce that produced the most prolonged ceasefire period in Yemen, where the conflict has been raging for over eight years. The treaty delivered tangible benefits to millions of Yemenis.
In the short term, Leaf affirmed that the US is committed to helping alleviate the suffering of millions of Yemenis and supporting the humanitarian response in the country. The US provided nearly $1.1 billion in 2022 alone, which helped prevent tens of thousands of Yemenis from slipping toward famine.
As for reports on the US looking to reduce its military presence in the region, Leaf denied them and stressed that her country enjoys strong security partnerships in the Middle East.
She refuted assertions that the US regional military presence had diminished and reminded that the strong security partnership in the region had led to the success of collaborative work to foil Iranian threats to Saudi Arabia a few months ago.
In 2023, the US conducted one of the most extensive joint exercises in the region in years. Last week, it organized an international naval exercise with over 50 partners, including Saudi Arabia as a major participant.
Leaf said that these military drills prove the notion of diminishing US presence and commitment as patently false.