As Joe Biden has decided to open strategic oil reserves in the United States, its two largest oil-producing allies have kept their reservoirs tightly closed. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia continue to push back against the US president as he tries to counter the spike in oil prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And both countries have been unusually frank about their refusal to intervene.
The five-week war is escalating tensions in many parts of the world, but perhaps nowhere is a regional order under greater strain than in the Middle East, where two of the United States’ greatest allies United are now seriously questioning the foundations of their relationship. .
The Saudi and Emirati refusal to bail out Biden — or even respond to his pleas — has pushed relations between the Gulf states and Washington to an unprecedented level. The extraordinary influx of Russian wealth into Dubai, just as the United States and Europe are trying to strangle Putin’s economy, has further inflamed matters.
Add to that the still tentative talks between Washington and Tehran, which could see a reprieve from sanctions in exchange for Iran returning to the Obama-era nuclear deal, and there are clear signs of a faltering friendship. – with the potential to rewrite Obama-era geopolitics. Region.
Usually opaque and often inscrutable, officials in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh have in recent weeks been unusually blunt with visiting diplomats about the nature of their grievances and how far they are willing to take them. A Western diplomat told the Guardian that a Saudi counterpart said: “It’s the end of the road for us and Biden, but maybe also for the United States.”
Prominent Saudi and Emirati commentators shared the same sentiments. Former al-Arabiya editor Mohammed al-Yahya chose the previously unlikely Jerusalem Post forum to publish his views on the impasse.
“The Saudi-American relationship is in the throes of a crisis,” he wrote. “I am increasingly disturbed by the unreality of the American discussion on the subject, which often fails to recognize how deep the divide has grown.
“A more realistic discussion should focus on one word: divorce. When Barack Obama brokered the nuclear deal with Iran, we Saudis understood that he was looking to break up a 70-year marriage.
“How could we not? After all, the flaws in the deal are well known. This paves the way for Iran to a nuclear bomb. It fills the war chest of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has deployed militias across the Arab world armed with precision-guided munitions to maim and kill people who previously turned to America for guarantee their safety.
“Why should America’s regional allies help Washington contain Russia in Europe while Washington is bolstering Russia and Iran in the Middle East?
Al-Yahya contrasted Washington’s demands with Beijing’s unconditional diplomacy, saying, “While US policy is plagued with baffling contradictions, China’s policy is simple and straightforward. Beijing offers Riyadh a simple market: sell us your oil and choose the military equipment you want from our catalog; in return, help us stabilize global energy markets.
“In other words, the Chinese are offering what looks increasingly patterned after the US-Saudi deal that stabilized the Middle East for 70 years.”
In recent months, Brett McGurk, the White House’s Middle East coordinator, has been a frequent visitor to Riyadh, trying to calibrate a relationship that soured shortly after Biden’s inauguration, when he refused to talk to the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.
This position set the tone for the stalemate that followed. And Prince Mohammed and his UAE counterpart, Mohamed bin Zayed, remain deeply suspicious of the administration’s resolve to push through the nuclear deal, which would give Iran full sanctions relief in return. giving up the ability to build a nuclear weapon.
A perceived lack of support from Washington for Saudi Arabia’s campaign against the Houthis in Yemen has added to the angst. So does the approach of an administration that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi say is willing to sacrifice allies for idealism. Donald Trump’s naked transactional diplomacy was a formula more familiar to both, and had been readily deployed by China, to which each yearns for closer trade, energy and even security ties.
Professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent political scientist, described the crisis with Washington as the worst in “50 years”.
He laid a litany of reproaches at the gates of the White House, which he said was built especially under the Biden administration.
Writing in the Lebanese daily Annahar, he said: “The relationship of the United Arab Emirates with the American partner is at stake, at a crossroads. Surely, the task of mending the misunderstanding falls to the Biden administration, which may be on the verge of losing an increasingly confident regional partner with a growing regional and global presence.
“The UAE has invested heavily in its relationship with Washington. We allocated the bulk of our huge sovereign wealth fund investments to US markets, excluding Asian and European markets, and we had wanted to increase trade with Washington.
Abdulla said the United Arab Emirates felt snubbed that Washington was not signing a deal to supply new F-35 fighter jets. They were also angered by Biden’s distance following a deadly Houthi drone and rocket strike on Abu Dhabi.
“What made matters worse was the Biden administration’s objection to sovereign decisions by the Emirates, such as hosting Bashar al-Assad…and pressuring Abu Dhabi to increase its oil production by outside of the OPEC deal.
“All of this comes at a time when America is no longer the world’s sole superpower, which has prompted the UAE and other countries to diversify their partners.”