Saudi Arabia and the UAE refuse to be led by Washington
Against the backdrop of the Ukrainian crisis, another crisis is developing – in relations between the United States and the Arab oil monarchies. US relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE hit a new low. And this is not about Ukraine or Russia, but about the politics of Washington itself.
Photo: Global Look Press
When US President Joe Biden moved to open up strategic US oil reserves, his two biggest oil-producing allies kept their reservoirs tightly shut. The UAE and Saudi Arabia continue to push back against the US president as he tries to counter the oil price surge sparked by the conflict in Ukraine. And both countries have been extraordinarily outspoken in their refusal to intervene, writes The Guardian in an analysis.
The Ukraine conflict is exacerbating tensions in several parts of the world, but perhaps nowhere is the regional order more under strain than in the Middle East, where America's two biggest allies are now seriously questioning the foundations of their relationship with the US.
Refusal of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to help Biden — or even answer his calls — led to an unprecedented low level of relations between the Gulf states and Washington. The extraordinary influx of Russian wealth into Dubai, while the US and Europe are trying to stifle the Russian economy, has further exacerbated the situation.
Add to that the still drawn-out talks between Washington and Tehran, which could lead to a sanctions deferral in exchange for bringing Iran back to the Obama-era nuclear deal, and you see clear signs of a rocky friendship — with the potential to rewrite geopolitics in the region, writes The Guardian.
Usually opaque and often incomprehensible officials in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh have been uncharacteristically blunt in recent weeks with visiting diplomats about the nature of their grievances and how far they are willing to go. A Western diplomat told The Guardian that his Saudi colleague said: “This is a dead end for us and Biden, but perhaps for the US too.” . Former editor-in-chief of Al-Arabiya Mohammed al-Yahya published his views on the confrontation.
“Relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States are in crisis”, — he writes. “I am increasingly concerned about the unreality of the American debate on this issue, which often does not recognize how deep and serious the division has become. A more realistic discussion should focus on one word: divorce. When Barack Obama negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran, we Saudis knew he was seeking the end of a 70-year marriage. How else? After all, the shortcomings of the deal are well known. He is paving the way for Iran to have a nuclear bomb. It fills the chest of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has scattered militias armed with precision-guided munitions across the Arab world to maim and kill people who used to count on America to help ensure their safety. Why should America's regional allies help Washington contain Russia in Europe when Washington is bolstering Russia and Iran in the Middle East?»
Al-Yahya countered Washington's demands with Beijing's uncompromising diplomacy, stating: “While American policy is rife with confusing contradictions, Chinese policy is simple and straightforward. Beijing offers Riyadh a simple deal: sell us your oil and choose any military equipment from our catalog; in turn, help us stabilize global energy markets. In other words, the Chinese are offering what increasingly looks like the US-Saudi deal that stabilized the Middle East for 70 years.
In recent months, writes The Guardian, Brett McGurk, the White House Middle East coordinator, has been a frequent visitor to Riyadh, trying to mend relations that soured shortly after Biden's inauguration, when he refused to speak with Saudi Arabia's de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman.
This position set the tone for the ensuing confrontation. Both Prince Mohammed and his UAE counterpart Mohamed bin Zayed remain deeply wary of the administration's determination to push through a nuclear deal that would allow Iran to completely ease sanctions in exchange for giving up the ability to develop nuclear weapons.
A sense of Washington's lack of support for the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis in Yemen added to the alarm. The same applies to the approach of the US administration, which, according to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, is ready to sacrifice allies for the sake of idealism. Donald Trump's open transactional diplomacy was a formula more familiar to both, and it has been eagerly applied by China, with whom each looks forward to closer ties in trade, energy and even security, The Guardian notes.
Professor Abdulhalek Abdullah, a well-known political scientist, called the crisis in relations with Washington the worst in half a century. Writing in the Lebanese daily Annahar, he states: “The UAE's relationship with its American partner is at stake, at a crossroads. There is no doubt that the task of correcting the misunderstanding has failed. This rests on the shoulders of the Biden administration, which may be on the verge of losing a regional partner that is becoming increasingly self-confident and has a growing regional and global presence. The UAE has invested heavily in its relationship with Washington. We placed most of our huge sovereign wealth investments in US markets, excluding Asian and European markets, and wanted to increase trade with Washington.
Professor Abdullah says the UAE felt insulted that Washington did not sign the agreement on the supply of new F-35 fighters. They were also outraged by Biden's withdrawal after the deadly Houthi strike on Abu Dhabi.
“Worse still is the Biden administration's objection to Emirati sovereign decisions, such as accepting Bashar al-Assad… and putting pressure on Abu Dhabi to increase oil production outside the context of the OPEC deal. All this is happening at a time when America is no longer the only superpower in the world, which has prompted the UAE and other countries to diversify partners.