The Biden administration has said it expects Saudi Arabia to “change its approach” to the United States and said it wants to minimize any direct contact between the president and the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The stance marks an abrupt change from the Trump administration, which showered the young heir with attention and praise. It comes as intelligence officials are preparing to publish, possibly next week, a declassified report to Congress that will describe their assessment of the crown prince’s alleged guilt in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the United States-based Washington Post journalist. States that he was assassinated. by Saudi officials in 2018.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that Joe Biden intended to “recalibrate” America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, and viewed King Salman, not Prince Mohammed, as his counterpart. While the designation could be technically true, the 35-year-old prince is considered to lead Saudi Arabia and have direct relationships with other foreign leaders.
In Washington, the question now is whether the latest comment simply represented a symbolic snub, or was it more significant, suggesting that the United States was trying to put pressure on the king to change the line of succession and demote Prince Mohammed.
In response to a question on whether the administration was trying to push for such a change, a spokesman for the state department said Saudi Arabia was a key partner on “many priorities” but that the association should “reflect and be respectful of the values. and interests “. The United States contributes to that association ”.
“The American people hope that the US policy toward its strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia will prioritize the rule of law and respect for human rights. Accordingly, the United States will cooperate with Saudi Arabia where our priorities align and will not shy away from defending American interests and values where they do not, ”the spokesman said.
The person added: “President Biden has also said that he would like to hear how Saudi Arabia intends to change its approach to working with the new US administration, and we look forward to those discussions to shape the future of our relationship.”
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Biden was sending a clear message to the Saudi royal family that as long as “MBS,” as the crown prince is known, was in the line of succession, Arabia Arabia would be treated “as an outcast.”
“I don’t know what the administration is thinking, but the best result would be [for Saudi Arabia] to get it out. You can retire to your chateaeu in France, ”said Riedel.
Other analysts said the administration was more likely to seek to downgrade and downplay the relationship, even when it made it clear that it has an association with the kingdom. Biden used his first foreign policy speech to announce that the United States would end support for the Saudi-led offensive campaign in Yemen and that it would end sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia for use in the conflict. At the same time, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that he “remains committed to strengthening the defenses of Saudi Arabia.”
Michele Dunne, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East program, said it appeared that the Biden administration was seeking to send several signals at the same time: that it wants to end US complicity in the Yemen war; wants to seek an agreement with Iran; and he believes that there is a legitimate need for Saudi Arabia to defend its borders.
“There may also be a new sign now that the new administration is not investing in MBS. If that means they hope to use the influence of the United States to suggest a change in the succession, I don’t know. They may be looking to distance themselves a bit, ”Dunne said.
He added that the Biden administration’s concerns likely went well beyond the US intelligence assessment, with a medium to high degree of certainty, that Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the assassination of Khashoggi.
“The whole world has a problem on their hands when it comes to MBS ascending the throne because we’ve all seen how reckless and brutal it is,” Dunne said.
Biden’s approach appears to be unsettling Prince Mohammed’s inner circle.
in a comment to Politico, Saudi businessman Ali Shihabi, close to the royal family, pointed out that King Salman “worked but was very old.”
“He is very much the president of the board. He is not involved in day-to-day problems. Eventually, they will want to speak directly to MBS, ”he said.
Seth Binder, who works advocacy at Pomed (Middle East Democracy Project) said he did not believe that Prince Mohammed was being singled out particularly by Biden, who had so far decided not to contact many of the region’s leaders, including Benjamin. Netanyahu.
Ultimately, the distinction they are trying to make is that MBS is an individual and not the whole country, which is contrary to the image that MBS itself is trying to portray. The idea that [Prince Mohammed] he is a reformer who is leading Saudi Arabia into a new era, it is simply not true, “said Binder. “While the United States could work with autocratic countries, it needs to distinguish between the rulers and the country itself. Therefore, its engagement with Saudi Arabia in the future should continue to do this. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism