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US-Saudi Arabian Relations - Background

For decades key strategic interests bound the United States and Saudi Arabia - anti-terrorism and oil among the top issues. And ties included US military sales to the kingdom and Saudi investment in the US. But the US-Saudi relationship was based entirely on interests, not shared values [as with the UK.]

Britain's East of Suez decision, which was taken by the Harold Wilson Government in 1967-68. The decision was taken by the Labour Government on the basis of a long-term effort to re-examine Britain's world role since 1959. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Britain's military withdrawal "east of Suez" primarily from Malaysia, Singapore and the Gulf formally ended the Empire, and the end of an era for postwar Britain.

By 1969 there were signs of an erosion in the US position in Saudi Arabia over the past two years. American preoccupation with Vietnam, US failure to support the Saudis as vigorously as they believed was warranted during the Saudi-UAR confrontation over Yemen, temporary US suspension of arms shipments to Saudi Arabia at the time of the June 1967 conflict, what is seen as an American partisanship for Israel, and an inability to persuade the Israelis to evacuate their troops from the Saudi island of Tiran (occupied during the 1967 hostilities) all combined to call into question the credibility of US assurances of support for Saudi Arabia. Now aging, King Faisal was in an increasingly bitter mood and reluctantly concluding that he must turn more and more to other sources than the US for assistance. The Saudis were seeking to reduce their dependence on the US for arms and military expertise. Over the long term, this could mean less Saudi receptivity to US advice as well as a less favorable climate for American business in Saudi Arabia.

The low point point came in the early 1970s, when the United States, embargoed by Arab oil producers including Saudi Arabia, for aiding Israel during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, actively considered a military intervention on the Arabian Peninsula to stop the economic bleeding. At the time, Michael Peck, contributing writer for US foreign policy magazine The National Interest, later wrote "like the rest of the world, the United States tamely paid the inflated oil prices. But rather than forking over the money, what if America had chosen to take the oil by force? In 2004, declassified British government documents revealed that the United States had considered a military seizure of Middle Eastern oil."

US Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger told Lord Cromer, the British ambassador to the United States, that "it was no longer obvious to him that the US could not use force. An interesting outcome of the Middle East crisis was that the notion of the industrialized nations being continuously submitted to whims of the underpopulated under-developed countries, particularly of the Middle East, might well change public perceptions about the use of the power that was available to the US and the Alliance."

The United States and Saudi Arabia share common concerns about regional security, oil exports and imports, and sustainable development. Close consultations between the US and Saudi Arabia have developed on international, economic, and development issues such as the Middle East peace process and shared interests in the Gulf. The continued availability of reliable sources of oil, particularly from Saudi Arabia, remains important to the prosperity of the United States as well as to Europe and Japan. Saudi Arabia is one of the leading sources of imported oil for the United States, providing more than one million barrels/day of oil to the US market. The US is Saudi Arabia's largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia is the largest US export market in the Middle East.

In addition to economic ties, a longstanding security relationship continues to be important in US-Saudi relations. A US military training mission established at Dhahran in 1953 provides training and support in the use of weapons and other security-related services to the Saudi armed forces. The United States has sold Saudi Arabia military aircraft (F-15s, AWACS, and UH-60 Blackhawks), air defense weaponry (Patriot and Hawk missiles), armored vehicles (M1A2 Abrams tanks and M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles), and other equipment. The US Army Corps of Engineers had a long-term role in military and civilian construction activities in the Kingdom. The US, as part of the Gulf Security Dialogue with individual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, has announced plans to sell advanced, primarily defensive, military equipment to GCC members, including Saudi Arabia, to support the efforts of these countries to increase their capacity for self-defense.

In August 2003, following the US-led war in Iraq in March and April 2003, the United States withdrew its troops stationed in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia's relations with the United States were strained after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in which 15 of the suicide bombers were Saudi citizens. In May 2003, a terrorist organization directly affiliated with al-Qaeda launched a violent campaign of terror in Saudi Arabia. On May 12, suicide bombers killed 35 people, including nine Americans, in attacks at three housing compounds for Westerners in Riyadh. On November 8, 2003 terrorists attacked another compound housing foreign workers from mainly Arab countries. At least 18 people, including 5 children died in this attack, and more than 100 were injured. On May 1, 2004 terrorists killed two Americans in the Yanbu oil facility in the western part of the country. On May 29, 2004 terrorists killed one American and wounded several others in attacks on an official building and housing compound in al-Khobar in the Eastern Province. On June 6, terrorists shot and killed a BBC journalist. On June 9 and June 12, 2004 terrorists killed Americans Robert Jacobs and Kenneth Scroggs. On June 18, 2004 terrorists kidnapped and beheaded American Paul Johnson. On December 6, 2004 terrorists attacked the US Consulate in Jeddah, killing five consulate employees. Terrorists also targeted and killed other foreign nationalities during this time.

Saudi security services have waged an active counterterrorism campaign that has largely neutralized this terrorist organization, though sporadic instances of terrorism still occur. In May 2006, terrorists attempted to attack the major ARAMCO oil-processing facility at Abqaiq. In February 2007, four French nationals were killed in western Saudi Arabia in a suspected terrorist attack. In August 2009, an Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) suicide bomber attempted to assassinate a Saudi royal and senior Ministry of Interior official.

Saudi Arabia is an important partner in the campaign against terrorism, providing military, diplomatic, and financial cooperation. Counterterrorism cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States increased significantly after the May 12, 2003 bombings in Riyadh and continues today. In February 2005, the Saudi Government sponsored the first ever Counter-Terrorism International Conference in Riyadh.

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Page last modified: 05-10-2018 18:41:53 ZULU