The Biden Administration Must Rethink Its Approach to Saudi Arabia

June 22, 2022 | Richard Haass
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A year and a half ago, President Biden came into office determined to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah,” largely because the U.S. had concluded that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had ordered the 2018 murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Richard Haass argues that, as Biden prepares to visit the kingdom this summer, he would do well to focus instead on the concerns Washington shares with Riyadh, particularly the threat of a nuclear Iran.

Higher energy prices are fueling inflation, which has emerged as the greatest economic and political challenge facing the Biden administration. Suddenly, Saudi Arabia, the rare oil producer with the ability to increase output relatively quickly, is a much-needed partner again.

Other factors are at work as well. Several Arab countries in recent years, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have made peace with Israel. Bringing Saudi Arabia, host to the holiest sites in the Muslim world, into the peace camp would have great symbolic and political value. Also paving the way to a presidential visit is Saudi Arabia’s embrace of a cease-fire in Yemen.

What could ultimately prove to be the most important reason, though, is Iran. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia find themselves sharing mounting concern over Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, as well as its support for violent groups in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. It is a classic case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Close cooperation between the kingdom and the U.S. will be essential if, as seems increasingly likely, diplomatic efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear pact with Iran fail—or fail to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear breakout with little or no notice.

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