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Biden could reset US ties with MbS' Saudi Arabia: report

The Saudi crown prince could be concerned with the prospect of a Biden win [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 October, 2020

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Saudi Arabia could be set for a new relationship with the US, if Joe Biden win's next month's election.



The US could reset ties with Saudi Arabia under a Joe Biden administration, diplomatic sources have told Reuters, after years of deepening relations under President Donald Trump.

Sources told the news agency that if elected, Biden would most likely expect serious compromises and more accountability from Riyadh on a number of issues, such as with the detention of human rights activists.

It follows criticism of Washington's handling of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which has resulted in the jailing of human rights activists such as Loujain Al-Hathloul.

Human rights groups have accused Trump of giving the crown prince a free hand in his crackdown of perceived opponents in the kingdom.

"I imagine (Biden) would demand a few high-profile concessions... something on women's rights defenders maybe," a Western diplomat told Reuters.

"There will be challenges but there are long-term strategic institutional relationships and no one wants to break the camel's back, though a Biden administration will want compromises," another Gulf source told the agency.

The crown prince has been widely criticised for a number of issues during his de-facto rule, which has coincided with the Trump administration.

This includes his authoritarian style of governance, the mounting civilian death toll in Yemen, and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by high-ranking officials.

This relationship appears set to change under a Biden government.

"Instead of giving blank checks to dictators and authoritarians around the world, as the Trump Administration has done, Joe Biden will stand up for universal values with friends and foes alike, and stand with the democratic world as we address common challenges," a spokesperson for the Biden campaign told Reuters.

Saudi and UAE authorities appear concerned about the prospect of a Biden administration with government-linked media recently publishing stories about emails allegedly linking former Democrat presidential candidate Hilary Clinton to the Muslim Brotherhood.

There are also fears among some Gulf states that Biden could do a deal with Iran on its nuclear ambitions and scale-down its military presence in the region.

"There is concern that a Biden presidency would at best, mean a reduced U.S. focus on the Middle East, and at worst... a more hardline approach towards Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries," Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of Riyadh-based Gulf Research Center told the agency.

"There is a desire for clarity among Saudis in terms of what Biden's concrete foreign policy would be towards Saudi Arabia."

There is the belief among some analysts that the recent UAE and Bahrain normalisation deals with Israel, said to be blessed by Riyadh, are preparations for a post-Trump scenario.

David Rundell, a former chief of mission at the US' Saudi embassy, said that Riyadh, too, might be holding off recognising Israel in order to use it as a Trump card with Biden.

Another source appeared to confirm the view that Israel might be a more reliable partner for some Gulf autocrats than the US.

"One of the reasons Gulf states are establishing relations is because they realised a few months ago they might not have the U.S. to rely on as in the past. Israel is a natural partner," said a source familiar with the process.

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