A document between Riyadh and Washington

I got a chance to look at a rare document written in March 1945 that shows the nature of tense US-Saudi relations

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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I got a chance to look at a rare document written in March 1945 that shows the nature of tense US-Saudi relations. It reminds us of the situation today. Back then, the US government had not appointed an ambassador, depending on what was called “the secretary” to represent it.

Since Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz was absent, King Abdulaziz assigned his consultant and Deputy Foreign Minister Youssef Yassine to send a message to US Secretary Rives Child following disputes with Washington that had prevented the selling of arms to Saudi Arabia.

Yassine wrote: “We are ready to do everything that helps strengthen ties between the two countries. All [US] demands that serve mutual interests will be met and facilitations required by the US will be granted, but in a manner that guarantees the sovereignty of the country and does not make the kingdom of Saudi Arabia subject to foreign criticism or be interpreted that the Saudi kingdom is an American colony.”

Yassine continued: “Mutual interests between the US government and the Saudi government do not resemble interests with other countries. We wish to strengthen these interests. Saudi Arabia will thus be glad to welcome a special American delegation or to send an Arab Saudi delegation headed by one of the princes. These delegations, however, will not be formed unless Saudi Arabia is certain that the US has the readiness to reconsider its stance and it’s willing to work on that.”

In his message, Yassine said the king would await a response from Washington within 10 days, and Saudi Arabia would seek other options if the United States insisted on its stances. Washington confirmed it desire to cooperate. It justified its reluctance by saying it was busy establishing the Atlantic Charter, which later came to be known as NATO.

Riyadh realizes the significance of a superpower and wants strong relations with it, but on terms that serve mutual interests

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Then and now

Yassine’s letter was written four years after the World War ended and was left with battles over influence with Soviet Union ‎over its outreach targeting the Middle East.

It had been four years since the end of World War II. There were battles over influence with the Soviet Union, which had begun to expand in the Middle East. Today is very similar. Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s current visit to the United States comes at a time when bilateral relations are tense. Like in the message in 1949, Riyadh realizes the significance of a superpower and wants strong relations with it, but on terms that serve mutual interests.

One of the most prominent issues today is Washington’s abandonment of support for Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia in the face of Iranian expansion and threats. The openness to Tehran comes at the expense of Arab countries, as the new relation is not linked to stopping its hostile activities in the region, including in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Arab Gulf countries.

Washington’s abandonment of its previous stance has confused all political calculations between it and Riyadh, and made each seek other options for the first time since the era of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who set the foundations of relations with Saudi Arabia in 1945 following the end of World War II.

If Washington wants to maintain interests in the Gulf, it must accept mutual interests. What is happening in the region due to the US political tilt toward Iran is no secret. As a result, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and other countries have improved relations with Russia and China.

Iran has sent arms and troops to Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and formed sectarian militias to fight there. This has strained Saudi-US ties. Sixty-seven years since the letter, those ties require a long discussion to understand the basis upon which both sides must deal with each other.

Some in Washington believe that relations with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries can be replaced with relations with Iran, since the Iranians have become willing to open up to the West and end their hostilities toward it. I believe Prince Salman’s current visit to the United States represents a chance to open this discussion.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jun. 16, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

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