Saudi Arabia has avoided any public reaction to the change of tone by the United States in the bilateral relationship. For now, the kingdom’s leaders are weighing not only the angle of the turn, but the rest of the movements of the new US Administration in the Middle East. While waiting for Washington to release the CIA report linking Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salmán to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi spokesmen and media highlight common interests and avoid talking about differences.
Riyadh’s statement on the conversation between Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and US President Joe Biden held on Thursday night highlights “the depth of relations between the two countries and the importance of strengthening ties between the two. to serve their interests and achieve security and stability in the region and in the world ”. Among the issues they addressed, “Iran’s behavior in the area, and its destabilizing activities and in support of terrorist groups” stands out.
He also underlines that the monarch thanked Biden “for the US commitment to defend the kingdom against such threats and to ensure that Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.” Not a word about human rights or about the recent liberation of activist Loujain al Hathloul and two citizens with dual US and Saudi nationality, which was included in the text released by the White House. It is that silence that highlights the differences between Riyadh and Washington that the new president has brought to light.
How these disagreements will translate into bilateral relations from now on depends largely on the expected publication of the informe Khashoggi, to which none of the press releases refers. That document, prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of the United States, includes a summary of what was discovered by the secret services of that country about the murder of the Saudi journalist during a visit to the Consulate of his country in Istanbul in 2018.
According to information released at the time by various US media, the CIA concluded that Prince Mohamed, heir and favorite son of the Saudi monarch, was involved in the crime. That result looked explosive in the face of man-made power destined to rule the kingdom’s destinies for decades to come. With an attractive modernizing agenda, the brash prince, now 35, had displaced anyone who could overshadow him on his way to the throne and had become de facto ruler.
Despite requests from congressmen and human rights groups, the Donald Trump Administration refused to publish an expunged version of the full report, classified as secret, to preserve bilateral cooperation and promote the sale of US arms to the kingdom. Since then, Prince Mohamed, known as MBS, has assumed “full responsibility as leader”, but has denied ordering the assassination, calling it a “heinous crime”. It is unclear to what extent the declassified version of the report provides more details about their involvement.
But beyond the formalities and taunts, the strong man The Saudi Arabian and his advisers are closely watching whether Biden is going to change America’s strategy in the Middle East, especially with regard to Iran. In that sense, the bombardment of militias allied to Tehran in Syria, on Thursday night, is more than a message to the ayatollahs for the attacks that their co-religionists launch against US forces in Iraq.
“Biden has indicated to Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis that he is not eager to establish cordial ties with Iran; who is still on his side despite the fact that he has suspended the sale of weapons ” [para la guerra en Yemen]says security analyst Brian M. Downing in an article.
This is how both countries seem to understand it. “The Biden Administration is doing the right thing with Iran in terms of prioritizing diplomacy,” said Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the president of the United Arab Emirates, during an address to the Brookings Institute on Thursday. Similarly, the Saudi press highlights the contacts between its Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal Bin Farhan, and the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.