Biden’s team realized Saudi relationship was too important to fail, Politico columnist tells Arab News
CHICAGO: US President Joe Biden has publicly denounced Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” while privately sending returning envoys to try to restore relations between the two allies, an influential analyst has told Arab News.
Elise Labott, the former CNN world affairs correspondent who is now a columnist for Politico magazine, had access to top US and Saudi sources – both on record and off the record. – for an article recently published in the magazine.
Speaking on ‘The Ray Hanania Show’, which is produced by Arab News and airs weekly on the US Arab Radio network, she said: “Let’s be honest, I don’t think President Biden ever really had the intention to treat saudi arabia like a pariah when he came to power and made it his policy but the policy got in the way and they tried to push the policy forward but in secret because of politics. After a while, the Saudis wanted to fix the relationship. So they did a lot of what the United States asked them to do.
“But ultimately they were just like, okay, in or out? There have been a series of visits over the past year. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan went there. CIA Director Bill Burns went there.
Labott said there was an acknowledgment in the White House that “there are issues in the relationship…on the broader human rights front, but whether it’s security, economy or region, the Saudis are a valuable partner and the United States needs to reset the relationship.
Other issues encouraged a recalibration, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine and soaring fuel prices in the United States, Labott said.
“I think when President Biden was on the campaign trail as a candidate, he promised, of course, to treat Saudi Arabia like a pariah state, to make them pay the price, and for a while they been quite distant, but I think as time dragged on, and the war in Ukraine was certainly the catalyst, the United States realized that the relationship with Saudi Arabia was too important to fail. And so, you had rising gasoline prices. You had the war in Ukraine. You’ve had a whole series of things where the United States would look to this strong partner over the years, Saudi Arabia – it’s a 75-year-old relationship.
“And because the Saudis, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in particular, were sort of ostracized, they finally had enough. Even though President Biden was saying this in public, in private he was sending emissaries to Saudi Arabia to say listen, we want to reset the relationship. We want to move forward.
“And almost in secret, there’s been this behind-the-scenes diplomacy over the last year or so where both sides have tried to make progress on a whole range of issues.”
Labott said Saudi influence on the global price of oil amid domestic American anger over the cost of fuel at the pump was a White House thought driver – but far from the only one. “Well, a lot of people reduce it to oil and the Saudis are the biggest swing producer,” she said.
“The United States is relying on them to stabilize the markets, everyone is going to fill up their car with gas at the pump, it’s over $5 and some places it’s $7, so the first thought is to know if we can get the Saudis to increase oil production so that the pain is relieved?
“I think the Saudis end up playing hard to get, with the US having accepted some oil production, I don’t think it will make much difference to the US economy in the long run, that’s what say the experts.
“I think if it’s stabilizing some of the economies in the region like Lebanon, for example, or mediating in Iraq or reaching out to Iran. Normalization with Israel. And then there’s, you know, Saudi Arabia is on the Red Sea and there’s a whole package that keeps trade lanes open in the Red Sea and mediates with Africa.
“If you look around the world, most major foreign policy issues, especially in this part of the world, Saudi Arabia is the ‘gorilla in the room’, and you really can’t do anything if you don’t. have not on the inside.”
Washington had working relationships with many states without agreeing with them on every issue, Labott said, and it was important for the United States to realize it could not bend a country to its will. “Whether it’s the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or those Gulf states, they’re monarchies, they’re not democracies, but if you ask people overall, there’s no not much dissent… if you ask the Saudis if they approve of Mohammed bin Salman, if you hold an election, I think he would win hands down. I think it’s about acknowledging these leaders as flawed as they are and trying to find a way forward instead of trying to bend them to our will.
As for what the United States wanted from Saudi Arabia, Labott said, “I think it just shows that leadership in the region that the United States is looking for and it could be anything from standing good side of democracy against the war in Ukraine.
“We have one goal right now and that is to beat Putin, and we need the Saudis to help us do that, so that means doing nothing with the oil market that will embolden President Putin…maybe don’t support sanctions like the US wants them to, but don’t do anything that can help President Putin, and I think if the Saudis want to be that leader, that’s what the US wants. United expect them.
The radio program also featured an interview with Fahad Nazer, spokesperson for the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, who said that contrary to the views of some experts, there was a genuine appreciation in Washington of the important role played by Saudi Arabia and the importance of the relationship. with the United States. Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia next month as part of his first trip to the Middle East is proof of that, Nazer said.
“This dialogue goes a long way but I think there is an appreciation in Washington, as far as I know among congressional leaders and in the administration, that Saudi Arabia plays a very important role globally. .. in stabilizing international energy markets,” he said. .
“We play an important role in helping to bring stability and in helping to resolve some of the political crises in the region, including the war in Yemen…and we have played a leading role over the years in pushing back non-actors. militant states like Daesh, Al-Qaeda. , the Houthis, Hezbollah and others. So I think there’s an appreciation for this very constructive role that the Kingdom is playing.
Nazer confirmed that Biden would hold separate meetings during his visit with King Salman and the crown prince, with a wide range of issues on the agenda. “The two leaders will discuss bilateral cooperation and joint efforts to address regional and global challenges, including some of the new challenges facing the international community, including cybersecurity, climate change and environmental initiatives,” he said. -he declares.
“At the same time, the Kingdom is hosting a summit which will include the leaders of the GCC countries as well as the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and obviously President Biden will also attend.”
Arab countries remained critically important players in these discussions with “our most important strategic ally in the world”, Nazer said.
The Ray Hanania Show airs live every Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit, including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington DC, including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show reairs Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 p.m. on WNWI AM 1080.
You can listen to the radio show podcast here: www.arabnews.com/RayRadioShow