And while Biden announced on Thursday that he was fulfilling his campaign commitment to end US support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen for a period of five years, his administration has made clear that it will not abandon US military aid to Riyadh and plans to help Saudi Arabia bolster its defenses.
His approach reflects the complexity of the US-Saudi relationship, and while Biden takes a tougher stance than his predecessors, he and his foreign policy team understand that the United States cannot allow relations to fail. They see the importance of preserving aspects of the military, security and counterterrorism relationship that are seen as vital to the security of both countries.
“The United States will cooperate with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where our priorities are consistent, and we will not be shy about defending American interests and values,” the State Department said in an email response to questions from the Associated Press.
Among Washington’s priorities is long-term assurances to play a leading role in defending the kingdom and its oil from attacks that could rock the world’s energy markets and economies. U.S. leaders also see Riyadh as a regional counterweight to Iran.
An important partner
Biden said on Thursday that the Saudi-led attack in Yemen had “created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.” He confirmed that he would stop arms sales related to the attack on Yemen, but did not provide immediate details of what that might mean. At the same time, he also stressed that the United States is committed to cooperating in the defense of the kingdom.
The US State Department said this would include assistance in protecting Saudi territory, vital infrastructure and shipping routes from the Houthis in Yemen. The Biden administration has yet to clarify how it plans to strengthen the kingdom’s defense.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and critic of US involvement in the Saudi campaign in Yemen, agreed that the United States may still have a security interest in helping to guard the kingdom.
“Our focus should be on providing basic defensive capabilities to help Riyadh defend itself from external threats, not fight those threats to the Saudis,” Murphy said.
Murphy pointed out that the United States should not provide “additional military support to Saudi Arabia unless we can clearly conclude that this support … will not be used irresponsibly as it was in Yemen.” He described the kingdom as an important partner though, and said he would work with the administration to restore relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Researcher Anil Shelleyn of the Quincy Institute in Washington believes that Biden’s announcement is an “excellent first step,” but warned that “the devil is in the details,” adding, “It remains to be seen what the meaning of offensive operations means when practicing.”
“Who will determine the meaning of offensive operations? Saudi Arabia or the United States? How will they be defined? The Saudis, for example, argue that all their war efforts are defensive,” she added.
The researcher considers that “ending the United States’ support for the war and ending the war are two completely different things. To really end the war, we need diplomacy, and for this we need to talk with the Iranians again.”
International criticism of Saudi Arabia has escalated since 2015, during the reign of King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, when Riyadh and the UAE launched a war targeting the Houthi rebels who seized power in Sanaa. Saudi-led airstrikes have since killed many Yemeni civilians, including schoolchildren on a bus and fishermen in their fishing boats, and the war failed to expel the Houthis and deepened hunger and poverty. International human rights advocates say the Houthis in Yemen have committed violations, including repeated attacks on civilians.
The CIA and others also hold the Crown Prince responsible for the killing and dismemberment of the Saudi journalist residing in the United States, Jamal Khashoggi. Women who sought permission from the government to drive and other peaceful advocates were imprisoned. It also detained many businessmen and members of the royal family.
Saudi Arabia was conciliatory with the stability of the Biden administration. Thursday said it welcomes international diplomacy in the Yemeni conflict. Its leaders emphasize a shared history and cooperation in the areas of intelligence, education, and other matters.
Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said in televised statements: “I think that we will have a great relationship with them because all the pillars on which the relationship is based are still in place.”
In a tweet, Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman wrote, “The Kingdom affirms its continued support for diplomatic efforts to reach a comprehensive political solution in Yemen,” stressing his country’s continued support for “Yemeni political and military legitimacy in the face of the Houthi militias supported by Iran on all fronts and on all fronts.” Hazm, “he added,” We look forward to continuing to work with our American partners to ease the humanitarian situation and find a solution to the Yemeni crisis. ”
It remains unclear how far Biden will go in fulfilling his campaign pledge to halt the billions in US arms trade with Saudi Arabia.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of Democracy in the Arab World Now for Rights Advocacy, said she was pleased with the administration’s messages so far regarding the Gulf states and the Yemen war, and added that she would watch to see if the United States maintained arms sales to the kingdom once it renamed offensive weapons on It is defensive.
Stephen Cook, a Middle East researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the increased US pledges to help defend the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may ultimately give the kingdom a face-saving cover it needs to abandon its attack on Yemen.
Cook said it might be “really the only way to convince the Saudis to declare victory and return home.”