Featured speakers: Dr. Daniel Serwer (moderator), Dr. Abdullah Alshayji, Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Anna Jacobs, and Professor Douglas London.
Ever since the highly consequential meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia in 1945, the U.S.-Saudi relationship has steadily grown to become an important cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. It is no secret that major challenges struck this relationship; policymakers in Washington and Riyadh traded harsh rhetorical blows over the 1973 oil embargo, the degree of Saudi Arabia’s culpability for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and most recently the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives in Istanbul. In spite of these tensions, the partnership between the two states has endured. In 2022, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and as the U.S. is engaged in talks with Iran to revive the JCPOA nuclear agreement, the two countries appear to have realized the need for closer coordination. Among many issues, the stability of global oil markets, the geopolitics of the Gulf region, and other shared security and economic interests have brought Riyadh and Washington closer together again.
At time that U.S. and Saudi officials navigate the short-term ups and downs in their bilateral relationship, there have been signs of a deeper divergence of geopolitical interests. Over the past decade, the two countries have held opposite views on the Arab Spring, the war in Yemen, the implementation of the JCPOA, the degree of Washington’s commitment to the security of the Gulf region, Saudi-Russian coordination in the oil market, and other topics related to the intra-GCC relations and domestic changes in Saudi Arabia. All of these topics have had an impact on the Saudi-American partnership. As the divergence becomes more obvious, Riyadh has pursued closer ties with Moscow and Beijing, and Washington has sought to form a more effective partnership with other Arab countries to balance its interests in the region.
In 2022, what issues bring Washington and Riyadh closer together, or push them apart? Why is Biden visiting Riyadh after calling it a “pariah” state? Are the U.S.-Saudi relations institutionalized, or based on personal relations between the two countries’ leaders? How have the foundations of the geopolitical relationship changed over the last decade? Is Saudi Arabia looking for a new superpower partner? Finally, how have economic issues, including the global transition to cleaner energy, changed the calculus of the two countries’ relations?