Saudi Arabia is looking forward to a resumption of strong and friendly relations with the U.S. following the recent visit of Saudi Deputy Crown Prince bin Salman with President Trump at the White House.
Relations between the two nations — whose economies are closely linked — have cooled over the past eight years. This period has coincided with the rise of Iran-backed terror in the Middle East and Gulf regions, even as Washington has worked to normalize relations with the brutal Tehran regime.
Now, it appears once again that the interests of the two countries align, as they have for much of our shared history.
At the White House, the Saudi delegation presented a detailed framework for a U.S.-Saudi partnership in the 21st century. It was a wide-ranging road map covering investments and economic cooperation, regional politics and security and defense, complete with multiyear execution plans. The Middle East is a different place than it was eight years ago and the Saudi plans reflect the changing roles of the U.S. and the Kingdom.
I suspect the Trump team may have been surprised by the level of detail the Saudis presented.
On the economic front, the Kingdom has a broad strategy, which is already being executed, to diversify its investment portfolio and move its economy away from oil dependence. Saudi Arabia will seek to forge an even stronger economic partnership with the U.S. through increased U.S. investment and a push to bring U.S. companies and technologies to Saudi Arabia. This will create jobs in both countries.
Politically, the Kingdom seeks to work closely with the U.S. to help regain regional stability. The Saudi delegation reaffirmed its commitment to provide Saudi Special Forces to defeat ISIS in Syria and to establish an Islamic anti-terrorism alliance to help support that effort. Any successful campaign against ISIS must address issues beyond its inevitable defeat, and the Saudi plans assuredly do.
In Syria, Saudi Arabia is hopeful that the liberation of Raqqa can be achieved and other areas in the northern part of the country can be stabilized, opening the door to a political settlement that can be accepted by key parties to that conflict. This goes hand-in-hand with a Saudi strategy for strengthening the Iraqi state so that it is able to deal with the many challenges it will face after the defeat of ISIS, especially the destabilizing role played by Iran.
Key to fighting terror is the two nations’ long-standing intelligence cooperation. In recent years, the Kingdom has increased its efforts to counter radical ideology, both by refuting the extremist narrative and by stepping up efforts to monitor and remove extremist online content. In this area, the Kingdom hopes to see a more aggressive role from the international community. Increasing cooperation on tracking and stopping financial funding to terror groups is also a priority.
Intelligence-sharing is vital to ending the conflict in Yemen. Interdiction of smuggled weapons puts enough pressure on the Houthi militants and backers of former President Saleh to agree to a political solution. This will allow a shift of focus away from countering terror and toward rebuilding the country’s economy, which the Kingdom is already funding.
The militants in Yemen are trained and funded by Iran, so Saudi Arabia is hopeful Washington will take a tougher line on Tehran’s terror campaign, particularly by applying political and financial pressure to its proxies in the region.
The final piece to reshaping the U.S.-Saudi relationship is military. The Saudis hope to work with the U.S. to make the Saudi military more capable of carrying a progressively higher burden for regional security. It is important that the U.S. and the Kingdom maintain a high level of interoperability and joint operations capability so they are ready to face crises together. Fundamental to this is the expansion of the Kingdom’s defense industry through partnerships with U.S. companies.
A similar concept was presented to the Obama administration, but it was met with disinterest. Perhaps the Trump administration will see the benefit of a stronger, more institutionalized structure to one of America’s most enduring alliances.
• Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud is a businessman and analyst who advises the Saudi government.
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