RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia, which could lose more than Joe Biden’s US election victory compared to other Arab states, has taken its time to comment on the aftermath of Donald Trump’s defeat, whose Middle East policies and Strong opposition to Iran’s support.
As other Arab states raced to congratulate the Democrat challenger, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the state, remained silent on the American vote for hours until he sent warm words to the President of Tanzania upon re-election.
Prince Mohammed’s close personal ties with Trump provided a significant buffer against the tide of international criticism on Riyadh’s rights record from the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Riyadh’s role in Yemen’s war, and the detention of women activists.
Those regions could now become points of friction between Biden and Saudi Arabia, a major oil exporter and US arms buyer.
The former US Vice President participated in his campaign to assure relations with the state, calling for greater accountability over Khashogi’s assassination in Riyadh’s Istanbul, and called for an end to American support for the Yemen war.
Saudi twitter user dr. Muna wrote, “Only BIDEN-20 would be worse than COVID-19, while many other Saudi users of the social media platform ignored the results in the early hours after the election for Biden by the US network.
A Saudi political source pointed to Riyadh’s historic relationship with Washington, reducing the risk of falling between the state and the United States.
But the Okaz newspaper of Saudi Arabia offered a sense of uncertainty about how the future plays out for the state. “The region is waiting … and preparing for what happens after Biden’s victory”, it wrote in a front-page article.
The state may not have to wait long. Fell Neil Quilliam, Associate of Britain’s Chatham House think-tank, said the Biden administration would try to signal early on its dissatisfaction with Saudi domestic and foreign policies.
“The Saudi leadership is concerned that a Biden administration and hostile congress will conduct a full review of relations, including re-evaluating defense ties and therefore likely positive voices and steps towards ending the Yemen conflict,” he said. .
Saudi Arabia was an ardent supporter of Trump’s “maximum pressure” of strict sanctions on regional rival Iran. But Biden has said he will return to the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran, a deal negotiated when Biden was vice president in Obama’s administration.
Cashier Abu Zaid of a supermarket in Riyadh said he expected Biden to take a different approach. “I am not happy with Biden’s victory, but I hope he learns from Obama’s mistakes and realizes that Iran is a common enemy,” he said.
A Saudi political source said that the state had “the ability to deal with any president because the US is a country of institutions and there is a lot of institutional work between Saudi Arabia and the United States.”
“Saudi-US relations are deep, durable and strategic and unlikely to change because a president changes,” he said.
Prince Mohammed refused to order Khashogi’s assassination but in 2019 he accepted some personal accountability, saying that it happened on his watch. Riyadh has sentenced eight people to jail between seven and 20 years in the case.
Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaqubi in Dubai; Written by Michael George; Editing by Edmund Blair