US trying to close rift with Saudi Arabia -News Brief


John Kerry at Davos, 2007. By World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland (World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2007) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Saudi Arabia on Monday to try and sooth perceived rifts in the relationship since the Kingdom turned down a seat on the UN Security Council.

The trip included various public displays of friendship between the two nations but analysts insist the major differences remain.

Reported differences include Saudi Arabia demanding a stronger role by the US in supporting rebels in Syria, disagreements over Iran nuclear talks and regional issues like Palestine and even Egypt.

The US and Saudi Arabia have been tight strategic allies for 70 years, with US military and political might backing the kingdom and Saudi oil policy helping America.

It would seem unlikely that these two long time partners would really break from each other but a series of major changes are calling the relationship into question.

In regional terms, Saudi Arabia has watched Iran become increasingly assertive since the United States removed their long time balancer: Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The US failing to provide direct support to Saudi Arabia’s efforts in Syria even while Iran is more and more open about its support to Bashar Al Assad has brought this shift into sharp focus.

Further, the US is perceived to have helped undermine Egyptian Islamist President Mohammed Mursi. His political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, has long been a beneficiary of Sunni Qatar’s backing and by extension Sunni Saudi Arabia.

Economically a lot of commentators are pointing to drastic changes in the US energy situation.

Many reports indicate the US could become energy self sufficient (or “independent” if you prefer that term) by 2017.

These reports estimate the US will become a world leader in exporting oil and other natural resources by the mid-2020s.

The simplistic interpretation is that while the US pulling back its regional strategic support, Saudi Arabia is also on the verge of losing its economic power to force cooperation.

This interpretation over estimates the switch in US energy situation.

The US currently receives the bulk of its “foreign oil” from Canada and Mexico.

Despite the public perception of US reliance on the Middle East for its oil, Saudi Arabia usually ranks 4th in sources of oil for the nation (Notably coming in behind US antagonist Venezuela).

What this tells us is that Saudi Arabia “pro-US” stance of selling lots of oil is more about keeping the price of oil low globally rather than directly feeding the US cheap oil from the Kingdom.

This economic tool of great Saudi Arabian supply keeping global prices low will still exist even if the US is fully “energy independent.”

If Saudi Arabia isn’t going to lose this powerful economic tool then by the traditional interpretation of the relationship it will continue.

Saudi Arabia has serious concerns about US support in the region but neither side is ready to abandon their long time alliance (added point: if the US lost Saudi Arabia as a major partner-who would buy all of the US military hardware?).

Further, this entire storyline about rifts in the relationships was sparked by Saudi Arabia turning down a seat at the United Nations Security Council.

It’s amazing after years of the world blaming the US for ignoring and undermining the UN, that somehow Saudi Arabia doing the same means they have issues with the US.

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