WASHINGTON: The frayed ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia are not likely to improve even after a new president takes charge of the White House early next year, US and Saudi experts say.
In interviews and comments to US media outlets, the experts said that President Barack Obama’s visit to Riyadh last week had failed to achieve its intended target: improving bilateral relations.
Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al Faisal told CNN that ‘yesteryear’ US-Saudi relations were gone forever.
“And I don’t think that we should expect any new president in America to go back to the yesteryear days when things were different,” he said.
“It’s not like it was two years ago, the state of the relationship,” said Senator Bob Corker, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman.
“The issues that have come to the surface really have been more long-standing, and Saudi Arabia has really come to not feel like they can count on us quite as much,” Mr. Corker told The Hill, a newspaper published from the Capitol Hill area and popular among US lawmakers.
“They’ve begun to take things into their own hands that in the past they didn’t, and I just think that’s created tensions between the administration and them,” he said.
In a joint piece for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, American scholars Perry Cammack and Richard Sokolsky argued that those hoping to wait President Obama out and let the US policy toward Saudi Arabia “revert to form are likely to be disappointed”.
“The new normal will be a more diffident US-Saudi relationship. Both sides will harbour lower expectations of each other and continue to disagree, sometimes sharply, over important regional security issues, but will seek accommodation when their interests overlap,” they wrote.
And Marc Lynch, a professor of political science at George Washington University, wrote in The Washington Post that “the deeper driver” of US-Saudi tensions was the Saudis’ ‘existential’ fear for regime survival.
“Gulf leaders have been frustrated not by Mr Obama’s weakness, but by his strength in refusing to subordinate American interests to their preferences,” he wrote. Mr Lynch also argued that it was in the US interest to rebuild its ties with Iran and future US administrations would also continue this policy.
In a special report on President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia, The Hill noted that US-Saudi relations had become strained over a number of issues, mainly because of the Iran nuclear agreement, Saudi aggression in Yemen, and the belligerent foreign policy of King Salman’s regime.
Under the new Saudi king, Riyadh fiercely opposed the historic nuclear accord between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries but failed to persuade Washington to reconsider its policy, the report added.
On Wednesday, King Salman personally greeted leaders from neighbouring Arab states for the annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit, but sent the Riyadh governor and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair to receive President Obama at the airport.
“The king’s absence at the airport was the most visible indication of the frosty relations between the two old allies,” the Hill noted.
In his remarks to media on Thursday, President Obama acknowledged “tactical differences” in some areas between the two countries, but said that much of this “strain was always overblown.”
Former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan told the newspaper the differences were not new, but had become more pronounced under the new king. King Salman “has an harder edge to him, which has probably troubled some members of the administration and Congress”, he said.
Mr Cammack, of the Carnegie Endowment, said that both sides would soon make an effort to mend their relations and “on some level, it might be successful.” But it could not halt the downward trajectory. “I think some of these structural things are permanent,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2016