Following the informal distancing and stagnation in their bilateral relations, US President Joe Biden did not hesitate to call Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to ask for help and save his administration from the growing challenges it is facing. Biden has been confronted with domestic and foreign crises that may cause the Democratic Party to lose the Senate and House of Representatives to the Republicans in the midterm legislative elections in less than nine months and thus lose the White House in 2024.
This phone call was the second between the US President and the Saudi monarch since February 2021, after Biden took office. It represented a significant positive shift in Biden’s approach with one of America’s historic close allies. According to a statement issued by the White House, the two leaders discussed various issues, including regional developments, Iranian-enabled attacks by the Houthis against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and the availability of global energy necessities.
“The president underscored the US commitment to support Saudi Arabia in the defense of its people and territory from these attacks and full support for UN-led efforts to end the war in Yemen,” the statement read, adding that King Salman was briefed on ongoing multilateral talks to reestablish constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. Pushed by the progressive wing of the Democrats — which continued calls to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia — Biden’s first foreign policy decisions were ending US support for the Saudi-led Coalition Forces Supporting Legitimacy in Yemen and canceling the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization.
It took the Biden administration a year to realize the vital regional role of Saudi Arabia as leader of the Muslim world, the importance of its international influence and Biden’s best solution to the global fuel shortage. Washington is changing its language with Riyadh. Following the Houthi drone attack against an airport in the southern Saudi region of Abha, near the Kingdom’s border with Yemen, injuring 12 innocent multinational civilians, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan emphasized his country’s efforts in working with its Saudi and international partners to hold the pro-Iran Houthi terrorist group accountable.
“As the president told King Salman yesterday, we are committed to supporting Saudi Arabia in the defense of its people and territory from these attacks. America will have the backs of our friends in the region,” Sullivan said. Meanwhile, US Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price stressed to reporters that Washington would not relent in designating Houthi leaders and entities involved in military offensives threatening civilians and regional stability.
This time the White House — for a change — had made the right foreign policy call to protect the country’s interests and undermine the influence of Iranian-backed militias in the Middle East. If Putin decides to invade Ukraine, the Saudis are the only ones who could help relieve the unsteady oil markets by pumping more crude, being the largest crude exporter in the OPEC oil production group. The White House emphasized that both leaders further reiterated the commitment of the US and Saudi Arabia in ensuring the stability of global energy supplies.
On the other hand, despite its efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal, Washington acknowledges the aggressive attitude of the regime in Tehran. Therefore, no matter which political party is in power, the US could not and would not jeopardize the safety and interests of its major allies in the region, including Israel. Such a significant confrontation cannot succeed without an essential influential country that could mobilize regional support, like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
On Feb. 3, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced in a statement that the State Department had approved a potential Foreign Military Sale to Saudi Arabia of Multifunctional Information Distribution System-Low Volume Terminals (MIDS-LVT) for an estimated cost of $23.7 million. “The proposed sale will provide 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,” the statement read, noting that the deal would support US foreign policy and national security objectives by improving the security of a friendly country that continues to be an essential force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East.
Despite Democratic attempts to open a gap between Riyadh and Washington in favor of other countries, Saudi Arabia’s political, military and security weight make it imperative for Biden to take a step away from his party to protect the interests of his country and its major allies. No matter how the White House tries to change its foreign policy and move away from the Middle East, there remains an urgent regional need to build a strong coalition if the US does not want to abandon its position as leader of the free world.
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