Riyadh-Washington ties: Institutional, not personal

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The US-Saudi Strategic Dialogue kicked off in Washington on October 14, between Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. This year’s meeting came in the midst of unprecedented global circumstances.

Indeed, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic poses extraordinary challenges and hurdles for humanity as a whole, and for the upcoming US presidential elections whose outcome will significantly impact the fate of the American people.

The meeting also took place a few days before the 15th annual G20 Leaders’ Summit chaired by Saudi Arabia. This summit is critical given the ongoing global geopolitical changes and turmoil. This year, more than ever, we need rational minds to snatch humanity from the rut of the increasingly questionable globalization and neoliberalism.

One of the biggest questions facing Arab-US relations in general, and Saudi-US ties in particular, is whether US policies will change after the upcoming presidential elections, especially if Democratic candidate Joseph Biden wins. On the one hand, if re-elected, Donald Trump will undoubtedly continue in the same directions he pursued over the past four years, including points of agreement and disagreement.

On the other hand, however, many from both the Arab and American sides fear that Biden will be a tool in the hands of former President Barack Obama, for whom the flaws of his two terms were exposed by the emails of his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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These fears are assuredly legitimate, as no political process is ideal and error-free in this world where good and evil have existed since the dawn of time. However, it is unreasonable to assume that Obama’s history may repeat itself again with Biden, as if life’s course cannot change over a decade.

In fact, the world has significantly changed since 2011. Many countries in the region have become highly aware of world dynamics, and many revolutions and events thwarted malign plans targeted at our countries and peoples. Luckily, many Arab countries, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have excelled in promoting serious visions of progress through fundamental projects across numerous fields, as well as creative and ambitious initiatives, which neither rely on others nor allow them to meddle in internal Arab affairs.

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In this context, the Saudi Vision 2030, led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, is doubtlessly a futuristic direction that will preserve leadership in the hands of the Saudi people, and pave the way for Saudi Arabia, once and for all, to occupy the position it deserves through progress and enlightenment frameworks that combine both originality and modernity. The 75-year-old US-Saudi relations are based on solid foundations and on institutions rather than on individuals. Therefore, concerns over the outcomes of the upcoming US elections are irrelevant and pointless.

The US-Saudi Strategic Dialogue reflects the importance of the bilateral relations between the two countries, especially in light of recent calamities and developments, as well as the old Middle Eastern and Gulf legacies. The need for coordination between Washington and Riyadh on all issues of common interest has never been this pronounced.

One of the most important of these issues is countering Iran’s threats, given the international community’s failure in renewing the arms embargo on it to date. This indicates the likelihood of a new violation, and the gravity of the threat facing the Arab Gulf’s security and stability. This situation strains the US strategy in this critical region for Uncle Sam. Iran remains thus a stumbling block not only for the Gulf states, but for all countries in the region.

The US-Saudi partnership is facing other pressing issues such as the increasing terrorism on a global scale. Riyadh has become a cornerstone in combating extremism and terrorism with the creation of the International Center to Combat Terrorism in May 2017, and the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology with the goal of promoting moderation and tolerance.

Furthermore, cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia in the energy and economy fields remains critical for world economies. Riyadh is a key anchor for Washington in the region, and that is why the US and Saudi Arabia share strategic relations that are purely institutional, not personal.

This piece was originally published in, and translated from, Asharq Al-Awsat.

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