Week of September 26, 2023

US and Saudi Arabia Mending Ties

 

In 2020, Biden had campaigned against Saudi Arabia, calling them a “Pariah” state for their assassination of reporter Jamal Khashoggi.  When elected as president, Biden removed several Patriot missile batteries from Saudi Arabia, even though the kingdom was being attacked from Yemen with missiles and drones.

Things have changed.  Biden no longer calls Saudi Arabia a pariah state.  American has about 2,700 soldiers in the kingdom and they are cooperating in counter-drone drills with the Saudi military.

The US and Saudi Arabia have deep defense ties.  The kingdom is the largest customer of American military products.

In his interview with Fox News, Prince Mohammed bin Salman was very gracious towards the US.  “The agenda between Saudi Arabia and America today is really interesting and we have a really amazing relationship with President Biden,” the prince said.

He is sharp, really focused, and well prepared,” the Crown Prince said, ignoring the well-publicized mental state of the American President.

Colonel Robert McVey told Al-Monitor this week, “Over the last 16 months, we worked very closely with our Saudi counterparts to develop their counter UAS (drone) tactics, techniques and procedures…Our objective for this exercise was to shoot down {drones} dawn to dusk.”

In an about face for the US, the US and Saudi Arabia are discussing a mutual defense treaty like those with Japan and South Korea.  This agreement is the most important aspect of talks between Saudi Arabia and the US.

“Under such an agreement, the United States and Saudi Arabia would generally pledge to provide military support if the other country is attacked, according to the New York Times.

This treaty will be a key element to Saudi recognition of Israel.  On the Israeli side, they are to recognize an independent Palestine.  However, Prince Mohammed bin Salman made it clear that Saudi Arabia is willing to work with any Israeli leadership, including Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“Every day we get closer,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on the negotiations with Israel.

It will “be the biggest historical deal since the end of the Cold War,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said.

As part of Saudi Arabia’s campaign to win support with the American people, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was interviewed by Fox News this week.

Mohammed bin Salman came off very well in the interview.  He is fluent in English and spoke without an interpreter.  He confessed that he loved to play computer games when he wanted to relax.  He spoke about the wide spectrum of natural wonders like a snow mountain – an attempt to encourage Americans to visit a modernized nation.  He mentioned that his favorite outdoor activities were hiking and scuba diving.

 

Saudi Nuclear Program

If there was one problem, it was the Iranian nuclear weapon program and Saudi Arabia’s reaction to it.  Mohammed bin Salman warned that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia will do the same.

‘We have to get one,” the prince said.  He continued, “We are concerned about any country getting a nuclear weapon: that’s a bad, that’s a bad move…they don’t need to get a nuclear weapon because you cannot use it.”

Any US support of a Saudi nuclear program will be controversial.  Ironically, in an unprecedented cooperation, Israel, along with the US and Saudi Arabia are working on a uranium enrichment program in the desert kingdom.  Such a program would also tie into the kingdom’s post-carbon Vision 2030.

As it stands now, the US will be forced to compete with China, who will offer easier terms.  However, the winning factor may be America’s more advanced nuclear technology.

The US may be able to temper the Saudi desire for nuclear weapons with a strong defense treaty and access to more sophisticated arms from American defense companies.  The continued presence of American soldiers in the kingdom will also act as a “trip wire” that would deter any neighboring nations from an aggressive act.

 

Advancing peace throughout the Middle East

It’s clear that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sees Saudi Arabia as a force for stability in the Middle East.

“To have a stable region and economic growth we don’t need to see any problems in Yemen.  We need to see Iraq going forward, we need to see Iran going forward, and Lebanon going forward and the rest of the region.” He spoke.

“When the region is disturbed, ISIS comes out, Al Qaeda comes out, and terrorist attacks happen.”

Although there is no plan to invite bin Salman to visit the white house, his interview with Fox is a dramatic step in his effort for rehabilitation and promoting a modern and visionary image to prepare the stage for such an outcome.

It seems he understands the need for Biden to improve his chances for reelection in 2024 and is willing to engage with the American president to advance such goal by achieving a breakthrough with normalization with the state of Israel.

The prince calculation seems to be based on his assumption that he will be able to extract the maximum of his demands from Biden without risking any damage to a potential Trump return to the white house if the latter was able to defeat Biden in the coming presidential election.