Saudi Arabia has made moves to placate the US after a recent feud over oil.
The kingdom has increased its support for Ukraine in the war against Russia.
But tensions between the US and Saudis are unlikely to ease, one analyst said.
Last week, the US scrambled jets towards Iran amid warnings that the Islamic Republic was planning an imminent drone and missile attack on Saudi Arabia.
Following the show of force, an attack never came.
But the incident served to highlight the complex web of interests that keep the US-Saudi alliance alive even in hard times.
Diplomatic ties between the Biden White House and the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, are being tested as never before in a series of high-stakes diplomatic encounters.
As Insider reported last month, the Saudis frustrated the US by slashing oil production in league with Russia, a snub made sharper by reports that US officials believed they had assurances that the Saudis would do the opposite.
The abandoned oil deal — and a series of more personal displays of disdain for Biden, amount to a power play by Crown Prince Mohammed, analysts say, who believes US power is waning and is courting rival powers like Russia and China.
Biden officials were said to be stunned by the announcement, believing they’d struck a secret deal to boost supplies. President Joe Biden has sought to cut off Moscow’s oil export revenue in punishment for Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Tamping down inflation, meanwhile, is one of the president’s key domestic priorities.
The move also prompted a wider backlash in the Democratic Party, with Sen. Chris Murphy of Delaware calling for the US to withdraw some forces from Saudi Arabia and ban arms sales to the kingdom. Biden himself said there would be “consequences” for Saudi Arabia, though did not specify what they’d be.
The threat from Iran, also appears to have focused minds.
“There is no denying that as long as the Islamic Republic maintains power [in Iran], officials in Washington and Riyadh will continue to view the Iranian regime as a grave threat to both US and Saudi interests,” Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Gulf State Analytics, told Insider.
“This factor is one of many that serve to keep the Washington-Riyadh partnership alive notwithstanding all the sources of tension between the Americans and Saudis.”
The anger in the Biden administration appears to have got through to the Saudis, who in recent weeks launched a series of diplomatic initiatives apparently designed to appease the US.
At a meeting of the UN General Assembly last month, the Saudis voted in favor of a resolution declaring Russia’s annexation of swaths of east Ukraine illegal, in a snub to Putin that further isolated him in a global forum.
Crown Prince Mohammed more recently announced a huge increase in the humanitarian aid the Saudis would send Ukraine, adding $400 million to the $10 million pledged in April. The Saudis also played a key role in brokering a high-profile prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine, in which some UK and US citizens who had been captured fighting for the Ukrainian military were freed.
Cafiero said the moves were a signal from the Saudis that they were willing to help Western interests in Ukraine. But he cautioned that Riyadh’s geopolitical maneuvering and refusal to sanction Russia over Ukraine had fostered deep mistrust in Washington.
“It doesn’t appear as though the Kingdom’s diplomatic initiatives vis-à-vis the conflict in Ukraine have much potential to offset such damage that has been done to Saudi Arabia’s reputation in the US capital,” he said.
Despite the chill in diplomatic relations, the US continues to rely on Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against Iran, and as a key strategic partner in a volatile region. Crown Prince Mohammed, said Cafiero, knows this, and will likely continue to exploit the situation, pushing for greater Saudi autonomy on the world stage and antagonizing the US.
“These are mutual interests keeping the US and Saudi Arabia interested in the bilateral partnership. Riyadh knows this and can continue to demonstrate its desire for an increasingly independent foreign policy without worrying about the US all of a sudden walking away from the Kingdom,” he said.
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