The meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz Al Saud aboard the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal on 14 February 1945 launched the unlikely partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The resulting agreement was straightforward: the United States needed unhindered access to the vast oil reservoirs beneath Al Saud’s desert sands, and Saudi Arabia needed protection from voracious neighbors and great powers.
Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies and Director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Permanent International Relations Scholars
But in recent years, the US-Saudi strategic partnership has frayed. The United States has been frustrated by Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and reluctance to stabilize the oil market, while Riyadh has come to believe that Washington is no longer willing to guarantee the kingdom’s security.
Changes in US economic and strategic imperatives – namely a boom in domestic fossil fuel production in the US and the Barack Obama administration’s strategic focal point for Asia – have also depressed the relationship. Meanwhile, Saudi officials have become frustrated with US lukewarm support for their ongoing war in Yemen.
In the Council’s new Special Report, The Case for a New U.S.-Saudi Strategic Compact, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and African Studies Steven A. Cook and Distinguished Fellow Martin S. Indyk give a thorough history of the special relationship between the world’s leading democracy and Prominent monarchy of the Middle East until now. “The United States no longer needs that much Saudi oil, and Saudi Arabia has a new, young leader who does not respect the implicit rules of the partnership,” Cook and Indyk write. “This combination shakes the foundations of the relationship and blurs its future.” They argue for a reassessment of US-Saudi relations and imagine what a renewed partnership will look like.
“Circumstances may be evolving for reconciliation between the two countries,” CFR President Richard Haass wrote in the foreword to the report. Russia’s war in Ukraine, combined with domestic inflation, has contributed to a sharp rise in energy prices, thus renewing attention to Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s largest oil producers and the only one with a significant capacity to increase rapidly At the same time, Iran is moving closer to establishing the preconditions for a nuclear weapons program, which is alarming in both Washington and Riyadh. “
The reconciliation proposed by Cook and Indyk will focus on limiting Iran’s regional ambitions with increased security guarantees from the US in exchange for greater Saudi mediation in oil prices, de-escalation in Yemen and further diplomatic normalization with Israel.
While a new system would require both parties to swallow their pride, it is bound in a realistic recognition of each country‘s strategic priorities.
As Cook and Indyk warn: “Seventy-seven years after the original Roosevelt-Abdulaziz Pact, the changing circumstances call for a reassessment of the value of the relationship on each side, because if no swift action is taken, the process of separation is already under way. is likely to accelerate and harm the interests of both sides. “
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