In an article he published in advance of U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia in July 2022, Faisal ‘Abbas, editor of the English-language Saudi daily Arab News, writes that Biden’s visit does not represent a “reorientation” of U.S.-Saudi relations, but rather a return to the norm.
‘Abbas notes that Biden himself stated, in an article he published recently in the Washington Post, that his past criticism of Saudi Arabia was never meant to "rupture" the relations between the two countries. This, says 'Abbas, is obvious – since "who in their right mind would want to rupture a strategic relationship with a country of the size and importance of Saudi Arabia?" 'Abbas adds, however, that the relations between the countries do not require "reorientation," either, since Saudi Arabia has for decades been an invaluable partner for the U.S., helping to combat terrorism, maintain stability in the region, and generate prosperity in global markets. The one who recently deviated from this norm is the U.S., he says, by taking measures such as delisting the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthis as terrorists and withdrawing American military systems from the kingdom at a time when Saudi civilians and oil infrastructures were under attack.
'Abbas also takes issue with Biden’s claim that Saudi Arabia enjoyed a "blank-check policy" from the previous U.S. administration. He states that human-rights issues have always come up in discussions with U.S. administrations, and that the criticism was welcomed when it was justified and rejected when it was not. Moreover, even officials from Biden’s own administration have praised some of Saudi Arabia’s recent reforms, he notes.
'Abbas concludes by stating that, “at a time of great opportunity… as well as daunting global political, security, health and nutrition challenges, the Riyadh-Washington relationship is as important as ever for the peace, stability and prosperity of the whole planet."
U.S. President Biden with Saudi King Salman Bin ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz (Source: Arab News, Saudi Arabia)
The following are excerpts from his article.
Who In Their Right Mind Would Want To Rupture A Strategic Relationship With A Country Of The Size And Importance Of Saudi Arabia
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While it is obvious here in the Kingdom why [U.S. President Joe Biden’s] visit is of great mutual importance [for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia], some of the president’s critics may not be as clear eyed as he or his team. Perhaps that is why Biden wrote a carefully worded column published in The Washington Post last week, entitled 'Why I’m going to Saudi Arabia,' in which he made clear that as US president his aim was never to 'rupture' but to 'reorient' the relationship between our two countries.
"The column’s tone was far more balanced, eloquent and reflective of Biden’s long career as a seasoned politician than some of his previous rhetoric — for example, his election campaign vow to turn Saudi Arabia into 'a pariah.' Such a statement is why the legendary former Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, used to describe US election periods as the "silly season," and there is no need to dwell on it. After all, who in their right mind would want to rupture a strategic relationship with a country of the size and importance of Saudi Arabia — the cradle of Islam, home to the holy sites of 2 billion people and the world’s most significant oil producing state?
"However, it is the ‘reorient’ part of Biden’s column with which I must respectfully disagree. He argues that he is coming to Jeddah because the Kingdom has helped restore Gulf unity, supported the truce in Yemen, is working to stabilize oil markets, and has had an impact in keeping America strong and secure. But none of that is a 'reorientation' — it is the norm: indeed, it is the very basis of our bilateral relationship. You could add to it cooperation to end the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, fighting side by side to liberate Kuwait, continued cooperation to combat terrorism, collaboration in space exploration, and the formation of joint businesses to create hundreds of thousands of jobs for both Saudis and Americans."
It Is The U.S. Administration That Deviated From The Norm Of U.S.-Saudi Relations By Delisting The Houthis And Withdrawing The Patriot Missiles From The Kingdom. But Lately It Has Understood Its Mistake
"In fact, any deviation from this norm has been — regrettably — by the US. On Yemen, for example, the current administration’s initial policy was to disengage, delist the Iran-backed Houthis as terrorists and withdraw Patriot missile batteries from the Kingdom while Saudi civilians and oil infrastructure were being attacked — civilians, let us not forget, in a country that Biden in his own column describes as a ‘strategic partner for 80 years,’ and oil facilities that were targeted at a time when global energy prices were at an all time high.
"However, since his administration began to engage more, to accept the facts, and to place blame where it belongs, we have together managed to achieve a truce in Yemen that has been the longest lasting so far. One can only hope for more progress with the help of Washington, and a final resolution for a war that everyone wants to end sooner rather than later.
"I must also respectfully disagree with the suggestion that my country had previously enjoyed a 'blank-check policy,' which the current US administration has reversed. If this is intended to mean that the Kingdom was given a pass on human rights under any previous administration, then it is simply untrue. As has been clearly documented in reports published by the State Department and other US agencies, such topics have always been discussed. Criticism was accepted when it was legitimate, and dismissed when it was not.
"Nor has the record always been negative. On numerous occasions, our efforts and policies have received welcome praise — most recently from Deborah Lipstadt, Biden’s own envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. On a visit to Riyadh, including our headquarters at Arab News, she had only warm words for the social and religious reforms spearheaded by the crown prince."
The Riyadh-Washington Relationship Is As Important As Ever For The Peace, Stability And Prosperity Of The World
"No country is without its faults — a truism that applies equally to the US, where growing racial and political divisions, police brutality, and the continued existence of the Guantanamo prison camp are all rather alarming to us as Arabs who expect better from a country as great as America.
"I, for one, am excited to see what emerges from the meetings on Friday. I am even more excited to see what the next 80 years of Saudi-US relations can achieve. At a time of great opportunity — such as the religious, economic and social reforms in my country — as well as daunting global political, security, health and nutrition challenges, the Riyadh-Washington relationship is as important as ever for the peace, stability and prosperity of the whole planet."
 Arab News (Saudi Arabia), July 12, 2022.