Why Are Saudi-US Relations NOT So Great Anymore?

Published April 21st, 2022 - 06:32 GMT
Saudi-US relations
Saudi and US ties have been going through a rough patch. (Albawaba)

Several press reports come out recently suggesting diplomatic ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia are not at their best, pointing out several at incidents that may hint at a rough patch between the historically close allies. 

Ever since taking office in January 2021, US President Joe Biden has been reported to have avoided meeting and/or calling Saudi's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is regarded as the country's strong man since he was appointed to his current position by his father King Salman in June 2017.

Analysts have long linked Biden's approach to Mohammad bin Salman's to the latter's unusually close relationship with the previous Donald Trump administration which helped save the Saudi heir from further questions over the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a permanent resident of the United States. Disagreements between both leaderships have also been linked to the Saudi-led war in Yemen, where Saudi's military resources are closely tied to US support, particularly in terms of military equipment. 

A report recently released by the Wall Street Journal caused shock waves online as it point to an alleged heated argument between MBS and the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan when the two men first meet last September. The WSJ report explains Mohammad bin Salman hosted Jake Sullivan in his beachside palace and "showed up wearing shorts".

The report cites "individuals familiar with the meeting" who said the minute Jake Sullivan brought up the Jamal Khashoggi case, Mohammad bin Salman burst in anger and shouted at him saying he "never wanted to discuss the matter again". The US publication also mentions the Saudi prince had then said "the US could forget about its request to boost oil production".

Changing Alliances? 

While 2021 reports were limited to the lack of direct communications between Joe Biden and Mohammad bin Salman, ones that have been coming out in 2022 point to an even deeper disagreement between both leaderships, particularly over stances towards the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, oil production, and the noticeable Saudi closeness with Eastern powers, namely China and Russia

Saudi's response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has so far avoided condemning the military operation, as the kingdom's official statements have been focusing on calls for de-escalation and supporting political solutions through negotiations, which is being interpreted as a bold statement from a decades-old ally of the United States and a key regional power.

Last March, several sources reported Saudi officials declined to answer calls from the US administration, ones supposedly requesting a boost in oil production to stabilize global oil prices amid shortages triggered by the war in Ukraine. Although the later on White House denied these reports, political analysts continued to point out to unprecedented tensions in the relationship between the Biden administration and the Saudi leadership.

Moreover, the Saudi leadership has been reportedly strengthening ties with Russia and China, in what has been regarded as an attempt to change allies with Saudi Arabia becoming less associated with Western powers. 

In recent weeks, Mohammad bin Salman phoned the Russia president twice, with calls focused on continued commitment to OPEC+ agreed oil production rates, in a clear statement rejecting the US calls for increasing output to help lower prices. Bin Salman also sent an invitation to Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit the Saudi Kingdom this spring.


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