Saudi Arabia and the United States have been close allies in the Middle East for years, with the latter functioning as the Gulf kingdom’s main arms dealer.
But since the kingdom’s surprise announcement of how OPEC+ members, including Russia, agreed to cut oil production by 2 million barrels a day, many in the west have begun to reassess their close and mutual ties with Saudi Arabia.
The move sent shockwaves across Washington, prompting the White House and Congress to openly criticize the Gulf nation and threaten to downgrade its ties in a backlash.
“Not only do we offer the Saudis so much in arms, but also in defence, cooperation and joint defense initiatives. They get almost 73% of their guns from the United States,” responded House Representative Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressman from California.
In fact, from 2017 to 2021, Saudi Arabia was the largest buyer of arms from the United States, as the Gulf nation accounted for 23 percent of all arms sales to the US, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported.
But in October 2018, the relationship between the longtime allies was tested after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s murder have led to several allegations that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, ordered the journalist’s assassination.
While the US was condemning Khashoggi’s murder at the time, former US President Donald Trump is said to have “helped” the crown prince after the incident, citing Saudi Arabia’s dealings, specifically arms purchases, as one of the main reasons for the ex- Führer said not to punish the Gulf Kingdom.
Fast-forward to early 2021: US President Joe Biden is now in office, and one of his first big steps to kick off his term is to authorize the release of a report concluding that the Saudi crown prince blamed the assassination of Khashoggi ” approved”.
Nearly a year later, Biden attempted to speak to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about the Ukraine conflict’s imminent economic decline; However, countries reportedly dismissed his calls and raised red flags at the White House.
Desperate for help, Biden made the decision in the summer of 2022 to travel to Riyadh to meet the crown prince in person, a move that received mixed reviews in the media.
Biden appeared to have made amends with Saudi Arabia after leaving the Gulf capital, but the situation would only get worse in the coming months.
For one thing, energy prices failed to stabilize, and for another, Saudi Arabia took a bold step in early October when it agreed with Russia on a massive two million barrels-per-day oil supply cut.
US President Joe Biden has since criticized the move but made no aggressive comments, waiting for Congress to reconvene.
Still, current relations between the two countries appear to be headed for further disintegration as Washington failed to persuade Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to sever ties with Russia, despite US warnings
This latest rift between Riyadh and Washington is likely to play out in the upcoming 2024 midterm and presidential elections, where Republicans will seek to capitalize on the current administration’s economic woes and international turmoil.