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How energy prices are changing Biden’s approach to Saudi Arabia

How energy prices are changing Biden’s approach to Saudi Arabia

This guest post is by Atilla Can Ekici. Atilla completed his master's degree at Birkbeck, University of London in 2020. He continues his doctoral education at the University of Plymouth, which he started in 2021 under the guidance of Dr Patrick Holden. His main areas of work are Saudi Arabia, Iran, foreign aid, and the Middle East.

"There is a larger lesson here. A successful foreign policy for a global power such as the US cannot choose values over interests. A pure, values-cantered approach to Saudi Arabia – or toward China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea, for that matter – is unsustainable."

Richard Haas, Project Syndicate, 14 Jun 2022

In the post A New Middle East? The future of the Saudi-American alliance, we discussed an article by a Saudi researcher in which he stated that Arabia had no other option than America. In this article, we will try to analyze the article of Richard Haas, a thinker from America, which deals with how he views the recent developments between Saudi Arabia and the USA.

A pariah state?

In his statements before and after the presidential election, Joe Biden signaled those relations with Saudi Arabia would not be the same as before. So much so that even the term pariah was used for the Saudi Arabian state.1 The murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the active situation of the Saudis in Yemen, and the situation of women and minorities in Saudi Arabia are some of the events that caused Biden to use these expressions.

The statements that a ban will be imposed on the Saudis, especially on the sale of offensive weapons, were events that showed that Biden not only spoke, but also acted. But it seems that things are not going as Biden wanted and recent events, statements and planned visits seem to bring the two countries closer again.

How can international relations students interpret the changing Saudi-American alliance? Read an analysis of the current situation:

What's the future of the Saudi-American alliance?

Haas’ view

Richard Haas, whose views we will examine in this article, is Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. He also previously served as the US State Department's Director of Policy Planning (2001-2003), was President George W. Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland and Afghanistan's Future Coordinator.

According to Haas, the relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States, which have had an oil-based relationship for three quarters of a century, can be summarized as follows: cooperation on oil-related matters, the Saudi pumping of copious amounts of money, and the intelligence and military supplies provided by the United States to the Saudis in return.2

According to Haas, the Biden administration took action to change this order between the two countries, especially after Prince Salman's active role in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and the human rights violations committed in Yemen. Also, the Biden administration tries to focus on getting out of the Middle East and focusing more on Asia.3

A much-needed partner again

However, as we mentioned at the beginning of the article, the latest developments seem to hinder Biden's plans. As for the reasons for this, high demand and therefore high energy prices after the pandemic and the sanctions imposed on Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

All of this has made Saudi Arabistan a much-needed partner again. It is no coincidence that the Biden administration will visit the Saudi Kingdom this summer after these developments. With this announced visit plan, it can be said that the pariah status of Saudi Arabia is about to come to an end.4 In other words, it can be said that realpolitik has once again defeated moral values.

According to Haas, the Saudi administration's ceasefire in Yemen and the White House's praise of this move are indications that the infrastructure for your summer visit to Saudi Arabia is being prepared by the Biden administration.5,6

The threat of Iran

Finally, Haas adds that what will bring relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States to an imperative point is that Iran becomes a nuclear threat in the Middle East.7 While there is a common cause of concern like Iran, Saudi-US relations seem to be unbreakable even though they are strained.

The physical security concerns of Saudi Arabia due to Iran and the concerns of the US side due to Israel's security seem to show that Saudi-US cooperation will always exist in some way.

New opportunities

Contrary to Biden's statements during and after the election process, his attempt to improve relations with Saudi Arabia seems to receive a lot of criticism. Although the pandemic affects the domestic and foreign policies of countries, this situation can be turned into an opportunity by global powers in some cases in terms of human rights.

For example, if the Biden administration can force Saudi Arabia to treat women and religious minorities better through reconciliation, it can both get rid of the above-mentioned criticisms and force the Saudis to improve human rights.

As a result, although the USA needs Saudi Arabia due to rising energy prices, Saudi Arabia is dependent on the USA against Iran. This re-convergence seems to be beneficial for both countries.

As part of Plymouth’s MA International Relations: Security and Development, you’ll study modules such as Economic Diplomacy and Development and Strategy and Security and have the opportunity to discuss issues such as Saudi’s role in a changing Middle East. Find out more:

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1 David E. Sanger, Feb. 24, 2021, Candidate Biden Called Saudi Arabia a ‘Pariah.’ He Now Has to Deal with It, The New York Times

2 Richard Haas, June 14, 2022, The Keys to the Kingdom, Project Syndicate

3 Ibid.

4 Peter Baker and Ben Hubbard, June 2, 2022, Biden to Travel to Saudi Arabia, Ending Its ‘Pariah’ Status, The New York Times

5 Richard Haas, June 14, 2022, The Keys to the Kingdom, Project Syndicate

6 Steve Holland, June 3, 2022, White House praises Saudi royals on Yemen truce before expected Biden trip, Reuters

7 Richard Haas, June 14, 2022, The Keys to the Kingdom, Project Syndicate

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