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Saudi Arabia - Foreign Policy

Saudi foreign policy objectives are to maintain its security and its paramount position on the Arabian Peninsula, defend general Arab and Islamic interests, promote solidarity among Islamic governments, and maintain cooperative relations with other oil-producing and major oil-consuming countries.

The Saudi leadership is uncomfortable with the idea of expanding regional democracy, and often looks with concern on the possibility that Arab monarchies or other conservative states will be replaced by radical, liberal, or populist governments. The Saudi Royal Family is unwilling to share power with elected bodies in their own country and has sought to pressure other monarchies to reject this option and thereby avoid setting what Riyadh views as the wrong kind of example [the Saudi version of the Brezhnev Doctrine].

Saudi Arabia signed the UN Charter in 1945. The country plays a prominent and constructive role in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and Arab and Islamic financial and development assistance institutions. One of the largest aid donors in the world, it still gives some aid to a number of Arab, African, and Asian countries. Jeddah is the headquarters of the Secretariat of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and its subsidiary organization, the Islamic Development Bank, founded in 1969.

Membership in the 11-member OPEC and in the technically and economically oriented Arab producer group--the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries--facilitates coordination of Saudi oil policies with other oil-exporting governments. As the world's leading exporter of petroleum, Saudi Arabia has a special interest in preserving a stable and long-term market for its vast oil resources by allying itself with healthy Western economies which can protect the value of Saudi financial assets. It generally has acted to stabilize the world oil market and tried to moderate sharp price movements.

The Saudi Government frequently helps mediate regional crises and supports the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. A charter member of the Arab League, Saudi Arabia supports the position that Israel must withdraw from the territories which it occupied in June 1967, as called for in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. Saudi Arabia supports a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict but rejected the Camp David accords, claiming that they would be unable to achieve a comprehensive political solution that would ensure Palestinian rights and adequately address the status of Jerusalem. Although Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic relations with and suspended aid to Egypt in the wake of Camp David, the two countries renewed formal ties in 1987.

In March 2002, then-Crown Prince Abdallah offered a Middle East peace plan, now known as the Arab Peace Initiative, at the annual summit of the Arab League in which Arab governments would offer "normal relations and the security of Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands, recognition of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of Palestinian refugees." In March 2007 the Arab League reiterated its support for the Arab Peace Initiative by emphasizing that it could be the foundation for a broad Arab-Israeli peace.

In November 2007, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal attended the Annapolis Conference, along with more than 50 representatives of concerned countries and international organizations. The Conference was convened to express the broad support of the international community for the Israeli and Palestinian leaders' courageous efforts and was a launching point for negotiations designed to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state and the realization of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Saudi Arabia supports the establishment of a unified, independent, and sovereign Iraq. The Kingdom is a charter member of the International Compact with Iraq and participates in the Expanded Iraq Neighbors process. In January 2008, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal reiterated Saudi Arabia's intention to open a diplomatic mission in Baghdad and appoint an ambassador.

In 1990-91, Saudi Arabia played an important role in the Gulf War, developing new allies and improving existing relationships between Saudi Arabia and some other countries, but also suffering diplomatic and financial costs. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya deteriorated. Each country had remained silent following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait but called for an end to violence once the deployment of coalition troops began. Relations between these countries and Saudi Arabia have returned to their pre-war status.

Saudi Arabia's relations with those countries which expressed support for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait--Yemen, Jordan, and Sudan--were severely strained during and immediately after the war. For example, several hundred thousand Yemenis were expelled from Saudi Arabia after the Government of Yemen announced its position, thus exacerbating an existing border dispute. Saudi Arabia's relations with the Yemeni Government have improved, but the current instability in Yemen remains a significant concern to the Saudi Government. The Palestine Liberation Organization's support for Iraq cost it financial aid as well as good relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Recently, though, Saudi Arabia's relations with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have improved, with the Saudi Government providing assistance for the Palestinian Authority.

During and after the Gulf War, the Government of Saudi Arabia provided water, food, shelter, and fuel for coalition forces in the region, and also made monetary payments to some coalition partners. Saudi Arabia's combined costs in payments, foregone revenues, and donated supplies were $55 billion. More than $15 billion went toward reimbursing the United States alone.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif owed his freedom, and some said his life, to the Saudi royal family. They intervened to get him out of jail and into exile in Saudi Arabia, after a 1999 military coup against him by General Pervez Musharraf. Personal favors aside, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also a longtime economic benefactor to the country. It bailed out Pakistan many times during tough economic situations and natural disasters with either cash or oil. As recently as 2014, it provided $1.5 billion to shore up Pakistan's dwindling foreign exchange reserves. It's also a strong source of jobs for Pakistanis.

Pakistan has much at stake in its relationship with the Saudi kingdom, not least of which is oil. Saudi Arabia is the source of most of Pakistan’s oil imports and a job provider to hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who work there.

Since ascending to the throne, King Abdallah followed a more activist foreign policy, offering Saudi assistance and support in efforts to resolve regional crises in Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia; fostering Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts; and increasing Saudi diplomatic engagement around the world. In particular, he has pursued an Interfaith Dialogue Initiative to encourage religious tolerance on a global level, which was endorsed in a session of the UN General Assembly in November 2008.

A day after winning a two-year term on the UN Security Council, Saudi Arabia said October 18, 2013 it would not take up its seat, citing “double standards” in resolving world conflicts, particularly in Syria. UN officials said it was an unprecedented move. The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had no other option but to turn down Security Council membership until the 15-nation council is reformed and has the means to accomplish its duties and assume its responsibilities in preserving the world's peace and security. During September’s General Assembly annual debate, Saudi Arabia chose not to deliver its speech, or even hand out a written copy, saying it was in protest of the deadlock within the Security Council on Syria.

By 2015 the new Saudi King Salman, in his bid to open up to the Muslim Brotherhood, began applying pressure on Egyptian President Sissi to resolve his conflicts with the Brotherhood so that relations between Turkey and Egypt can be improved.

Leaked in December 2015, a Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) document entitled "Saudi Arabia - Sunni regional power torn between foreign policy paradigm change and domestic policy consolidation" singled out Saudi Arabia's defense minister Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as trying to strengthen his place in the royal succession while putting Saudi's relationship with erstwhile regional allies in jeopardy. "The careful diplomatic stance of older members of the Saudi royal family has been replaced by an impulsive policy of intervention," the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) said.

The spy agency accused bin Salman, second in line to the throne, and his father, King Salman, as trying to create an image of Saudi Arabia being the leader of the Arab world. The BND added that bin Salman's quest to cement his place in the nation's leadership could also irritate other members of the royal family. As another reason for the shift in policy, the BND also cited a perceived change in the role of the United States as the guarantor of stability in the face of growing influence exerted by Iran.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often known as MBS, told heads of US-based Jewish groups that the Palestinian leadership must accept conditions for peace put forward by the administration of US President Donald Trump, according to a report on Israeli media 30 April 2018. During a closed-door meeting last month in New York with the organisations' leaders, bin Salman harshly criticised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Channel 10 news reported on Sunday, citing an Israeli diplomatic wire and sources.

"In the last several decades the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after the other and rejected all the peace proposals it was given," bin Salman reportedly said in a report published on Axios website by Barak Ravid, Channel 10's senior diplomatic correspondent. "It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining. While bin Salman criticised Palestinian leadership, he further stated that peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine would need to move forward before Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states would normalise relations with Israel.

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Page last modified: 19-07-2021 18:28:29 ZULU