- MbS sends a reminder to the US on who makes the decisions in the region
- Mbs a player that Washington cannot ignore or repudiate
- He is forging ties with other powers, he reforms the relations of enemies.
- Reaffirms Saudi Arabia’s place as an energy giant in an oil-dependent world
May 24 (Reuters) – Once labeled a pariah, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took center stage as emcee last week as Arab states readmitted Syria into the Arab League, signaling to Washington who calls the shots. regional.
His effusive greeting of President Bashar al-Assad at the Arab summit with kisses on the cheeks and a warm hug defied US disapproval of Syria’s return to the fold and capped a turnaround in the prince’s fortunes driven by geopolitical realities.
The prince, known as MbS, seeks to reassert Saudi Arabia as a regional power by using its place at the top of an energy giant in an oil-dependent world consumed by war in Ukraine.
Shunned by Western states after the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi assassination squad, the prince has now become a player that Washington cannot ignore or disown, but must deal with on a transactional basis.
Skeptical of the United States’ promises about the security of Saudi Arabia and tired of its scolding Instead, MbS is building ties with other global powers and, to Washington’s dismay, rebuilding relations with their shared enemies.
His joyous confidence on the world stage was not only visible in his reception of Assad. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attended the Jeddah meeting and MbS offered to mediate between kyiv and oil producer Moscow.
To be sure, Saudi Arabia is still militarily dependent on the United States, which saved it from a possible invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1990. monitors Iranian military activity in the Gulf and provides Riyadh with most of its weapons.
Still, with Washington seemingly less committed to the Middle East and less receptive to Riyadh’s anxieties, MbS pursues its own regional policy with less apparent deference to the views of its top leaders. powerful ally.
“This is a strong signal to the United States that ‘we are reshaping and redrawing our relations without you,'” Abdulaziz al-Sager, president of the Gulf Research Center, said of the summit.
“He’s not getting what he wants from the other side,” Sager added, saying Saudi Arabia’s dealings with regional enemies were based on Riyadh’s approach to regional security.
MbS’s position was strengthened last year when Western economies turned to Saudi Arabia to help tame an oil market destabilized by the war in Ukraine. He created the opportunity for MbS to launch a diplomatic offensive that included appearances at high-profile summits.
That effort was aided when Washington declared MbS immune from prosecution for the murder of Khashoggi despite being directly implicated in it by US intelligence.
A visit by US President Joe Biden last July had already demonstrated the return of Riyadh’s influence: the US leader left with empty hands while the prince enjoyed a public display of the US commitment to Saudi security.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s shift away from US dependency was evident when China this year brokered a settlement between Riyadh and its regional archenemy Iran after years of hostility.
The deal was not made from a position of Saudi strength: Iran’s allies had come out stronger than the kingdom’s in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and controlled most of Yemen’s populated territory.
Still, it showed that Riyadh was able to cut its losses and work with US rivals and enemies to shore up its regional interests, such as cooling the Yemen war, where Saudi forces have been bogged down since 2015.
Meanwhile, the prince has improved ties with Turkey and ended a boycott of Qatar, a neighbor he considered invading in 2017, according to diplomats and Doha officials.
“Over the past three years, the hatchet has been buried and relations have been mended,” said Saudi columnist Abdulrahman Al-Rashed in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
A Gulf official said the new, more directly transactionalthe relationship with the United States had replaced the old oil-for-defense model because of what Riyadh saw as a more shaky security umbrella after the 2011 Arab uprisings.
A senior State Department official said the relationship is “an important eight-decade relationship that spans generations, through administrations in our own country and among leaders in Saudi Arabia.”
“We have multiple interests when it comes to our relationship with Saudi Arabia… Our policy and commitment will seek to ensure that our relationship remains strong and capable of meeting our shared challenges of the future.”
Riyadh thought that Washington had abandoned old allies during the revolts and might abandon the Al Saud dynasty as well. At the same time, he believed that the US pursuit of a nuclear deal with Tehran had led Washington to ignore the growing activity in the region of Iranian proxies seen by Riyadh as a threat.
That impression has strengthened. A Saudi source close to the ruling inner circle pointed to what he saw as lax enforcement of sanctions against Iran and a reduction in Syria, where a small US contingent has denied territory to Iran’s allies.
“I think that the countries of the region will therefore do what is best for them,” he said.
Riyadh, meanwhile, was upset that the United States was withdrawing its support for Saudi operations in Yemen, launched after Washington repeatedly urged the kingdom to take responsibility for its own security.
Without direct US intervention or support for its own military efforts, Riyadh had no choice but to reach a deal with Iran, even if it upset Washington, the source said.
“This is a consequence of the action of the United States,” he added.
Each side has a list of requests that the other is unwilling to grant, the Gulf official said.
However, both parties may have little choice but to put their grudges aside.
The kingdom may see the US security umbrella weakened, but it still sees it as crucial to the Saudi defense. Meanwhile, Western states have been reminded that Riyadh’s influence in a volatile oil market forces them to banish their doubts and deal with their de facto ruler and future king.
Written by Samia Nakhoul; Edited by Angus McDowall
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