US-Saudi Arabian Relations
Joe Biden has made his position on Saudi Arabia and its war in Yemen clear. In the two years before the 2020 election, Biden said Saudi Arabia’s government has “very little social redeeming value”, that Riyadh had murdered “children … and innocent people” in Yemen, and it was a “pariah” state.
“Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia], end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil,” Biden said in October.
That forceful language is echoed by the wider Democratic Party. The reason for this push to punish Saudi Arabia on the Democratic side is clear – the war in Yemen’s continuing humanitarian cost, the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, and the Trump administration’s overt support for Saudi Arabia throughout these affairs.
Aside from shared antipathy for Iran, Saudi Arabia was President Donald Trump’s first overseas visit, and the outgoing US leader bragged that he protected Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) after Khashoggi’s killing. Many Democrats, on the other hand, called for MBS to be held accountable.
“The Biden administration will end the perception that the Saudi leadership enjoys near-unconditional support in the White House … with a view to reframing it around goals that serve both the US and Saudi interests,” Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow for the Middle East at Rice University, told Al Jazeera. “These would include a way of disengaging Saudi Arabia from Yemen.”
In April 2019, a bipartisan resolution to end American involvement in the war was passed by both houses of Congress, only to be vetoed by Trump. At the time, the president defended his actions by saying peace in Yemen could only come through “a negotiated settlement”. The question now is whether Biden will have more luck in bringing about such a solution. “I think the Biden administration can have a very positive impact on ending the war in Yemen,” said Gregory Johnsen, a former member of the UN Security Council Panel of Experts on Yemen. “Indeed, the US may be the only country, which – if it so chooses – can put enough diplomatic pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the war in Yemen.”
Following recognition in 1931, the United States and Saudi Arabia established full diplomatic relations, with exchange of credentials and the first U.S. ambassadorial posting to Jeddah, in 1940. Saudi Arabia’s unique role in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its holding of the world’s second largest reserves of oil, and its strategic location all play a role in the long-standing bilateral relationship between the Kingdom and the United States. The United States and Saudi Arabia have a common interest in preserving the stability, security, and prosperity of the Gulf region and consult closely on a wide range of regional and global issues.
The United States and Saudi Arabia enjoy a strong economic relationship. The United States is Saudi Arabia’s second largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia is one of the United States’ largest trading partners in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is the second leading source of imported oil for the United States, providing just under one million barrels per day of oil to the U.S. market. The United States and Saudi Arabia have signed a Trade Investment Framework Agreement. Saudi Arabia launched its Vision 2030 program in April 2016, laying out plans to diversify the economy, including through increased trade and investment with the United States and other countries.
Saudi Arabia plays an important role in working toward a peaceful and prosperous future for the region and is a strong partner in security and counterterrorism efforts and in military, diplomatic, and financial cooperation. Its forces works closely with U.S. military and law enforcement bodies to safeguard both countries’ national security interests. The United States and Saudi Arabia also enjoy robust cultural and educational ties with some 55,000 Saudi students studying in U.S. colleges and universities and scores of educational and cultural exchange visitors each year. The United States also provides promising youth and emerging Saudi leaders the opportunity to experience the United States and its institutions through the International Visitor Leadership Program and various other exchange programs.
The United States and Saudi Arabia are working collectively toward the common goal of a stable, secure, and prosperous Middle East. Saudi Arabia is a vital U.S. partner on a wide range of regional security issues, and a founding member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Saudi Arabia hosted the inaugural conference in Jeddah in September 2014, enacted and continues to enforce tough criminal penalties for those facilitating terrorism or traveling to fight in foreign conflicts, and issued multiple statements against ISIS/Da’esh as “Enemy Number 1 of Islam.” Saudi Arabia also leads Coalition efforts to disrupt ISIS financial and facilitation networks and build Coalition members’ capacity to identify and target such networks by increasing information sharing and developing structural measures to counter illicit financial flows. The United States works with Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to increase cooperation on border security, maritime security, arms transfers, cybersecurity, and counterterrorism.
Supported by U.S. security cooperation efforts, the Kingdom foiled numerous terrorist attempts against Saudi and foreign targets and successfully deterred external attacks. The United States remains committed to providing the Saudi armed forces with the equipment, training, and follow-on support necessary to protect Saudi Arabia, and the region, from the destabilizing effects of terrorism, countering Iranian influence, and other threats. Toward that end, the United States will continue to collaborate with Saudi Arabia to improve training for special operations and counterterrorism forces, integrate air and missile defense systems, strengthen cyber defenses, and bolster maritime security.
The U.S. has $126.6 billion in active government-to-government sales cases with Saudi Arabia under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system. Since the May 2017 signing of the $110 billion commitment to pursue Saudi Armed Forces modernization, we carried out an increase in FMS and DCS cases. To date, this initiative resulted in over $27 billion in implemented FMS cases.
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