Undoing the longstanding US-Saudi Arabia relationship will not be an easy task, despite the negative repercussions of Khashoggi’s murder and the US Senate’s determination to hold Riyadh accountable.
Rabat – Saudi Arabia has firmly condemned what it calls the US’s “blatant interferences” in Riyadh’s internal affairs, signaling a possible shift in the strategic relationship between the two partners.
In an unparalleled move on Thursday, the US Senate called for a reconsideration of Washington’s position toward Saudi Arabia. The Senate passed a bipartisan resolution that called for “appropriate accountability” in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The move has since been perceived as denouncing the House of Saud, especially Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been implicated in the Khashoggi affair.
As well as pointing condemnatory fingers at Mohammed bin Salman, US senators called for American aid for Saudi Arabia’s military engagement in Yemen to end.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been vocal in calling on the US to stop collaborating with what he calls Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen, called the resolution “a historic moment.”
He asserted, “Today we declare we will not long participate in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen which has caused the worst humanitarian crisis on earth, with 85,000 children starving to death. Today we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will no longer be part of their military adventurism.”
Saudi Arabia’s response came earlier today, with the kingdom adopting, for the first time, somewhat undiplomatic and disapproving language toward its staunch American ally.
In a long rebuttal of the Senate’s “unsubstantiated” accusations, the Saudi foreign affairs ministry said that the Senate’s bipartisan resolution “contained blatant interferences” in Saudi internal affairs.
As well as blemishing the kingdom’s reputation and undermining its leadership role in the region, the resolution is “based on unsubstantiated claims and allegations,” the statement asserted. “The kingdom categorically rejects any interference in its internal affairs, any and all accusations, in any manner, that disrespect its leadership … and any attempts to undermine its sovereignty or diminish its stature.”
Riyadh needs to overcome Anti-MBS mood in America
But Riyadh sugar-coated its harsh statement because a bluntly undiplomatic response may further divide US popular opinion on Saudi Arabia.
Describing the Senate as “an esteemed legislative body of an allied and friendly government,” the statement “reaffirmed” Riyadh’s devotion to its strategic relations with the US. In Saudi Arabia’s reckoning, the Senate’s latest position appeared to have caved in to “all those who want to cause a rift in Saudi-US relationship.”
The statement concluded that the Saudi kingdom “hopes to avoid any ramifications on the ties between the two countries that could have significant negative impacts on this important strategic relationship.”
The response stood out for unapologetically standing up to the US’s criticism of Saudi policies.
While Riyadh has lately responded belligerently to countries—Sweden and Canada are the latest victims of Riyadh’s wrath—that have voiced concerns over Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record, the US has not been subjected to the same abrasive rhetoric.
Even when American media reported on the kingdom’s dubious human rights record or when some American voices accused Riyadh of having links to militant Islamism (especially in the wake of 9/11), the kingdom used to respond in the traditional diplomatic rhetoric that “firmly denied” or asked for proof of “incorrect allegations” or “baseless accusations.”
However, since the murder of Khashoggi, the US resident Saudi journalist who died at the hands of Saudi security officers in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, a number of top American policymakers have made their disapproval of Saudi Arabia and its de facto leader clear.
In the American media, meanwhile, there has been a downpour of op-ed and investigative pieces directly linking Crown Prince MBS to Khashoggi’s death. Even the CIA recently concluded that MBS was aware of, and may have sponsored, the Saudi operation that claimed Khashoggi’s life on October 2.
As Saudi Arabia and its powerful young crown prince continue to fall out of grace in America’s high places, President Trump has remained a steady partner for the Saudis.
While evidence has led the US president to considerably change his unrepentant support for MBS’s innocence at the start of the Khashoggi saga, Trump has remained the linchpin of the US relationship with Saudi Arabia.
For Trump and a sizable number of conservative Americans, Saudi Arabia remains a necessary counter-balance to Iran’s regional aspirations. But Trump has also said that the US cannot afford to lose the vast financial assets that it gets from arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
But as the US Senate is pushing for a radical revision of America’s stance with Saudi Arabia and the whole Mideast dynamics, some have suggested it is a matter of time before Washington replaces Riyadh with a more “reliable” regional ally.