Tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia have eased as the two countries are stepping up military cooperation against Iran, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing US and Saudi officials.
The officials said that the Biden administration has dropped its threats to retaliate against Saudi Arabia over OPEC+ oil production cuts that were announced in October ahead of the US midterm elections. The Democrats lost the House to the Republicans by a slim margin but overall performed better than expected.
President Biden vowed “consequences” for the oil cuts but now has no intention of following through on the threat. The officials said that the US and Saudi Arabia are moving ahead with new military and intelligence cooperation against Iran as there is no hope the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, will be revived.
The Biden administration has done Riyadh a few favors since the October oil cuts, including telling a New York court that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be shielded from a lawsuit filed by the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi. US intelligence concluded MbS ordered the killing of Khashoggi, but the administration said he should be immune from the lawsuit since he’s a head of state, and the case was dismissed after a federal judge agreed.
The administration also worked against a War Powers Resolution that would have ended US support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen. The White House pressured Senate Democrats to vote against the bill and said Biden would veto the legislation if it reached his desk. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) planned to bring the resolution to the floor for a vote but reversed course over White House pressure. The Journal report said that Saudi officials also worked against the resolution.
In November, Riyadh claimed that Iran was preparing an imminent attack on the Kingdom, although there was no indication Tehran was planning anything besides the Saudi claim. But in response, the US flew warplanes based in the Middle East toward Iran and later flew bombers into the region in a show of force. The officials said that this cooperation was a “turning point” for US-Saudi relations after they soured in October.
The US often flies bombers into the Middle East in shows of force aimed at Iran, and Saudi warplanes typically escort them as they fly through Saudi airspace. The Journal report said Saudi warplanes escorted US bombers several times last year, and the officials said this sustained cooperation helped maintain the relationship through the political spat.
The US has also been stepping up military cooperation with Israel, and the ultimate goal is to form a regional alliance against Iran with Israel and the US’s Arab allies. Such cooperation has become easier since Israel signed normalization agreements with the UAE and Bahrain, but the Saudis have signaled they’re still a long way from doing the same.