Saudi Arabia, UAE call for more US security support

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are pushing the United States to step up security support as the Biden administration seeks cooperation from the two Gulf powers on everything from energy to the Ukraine crisis to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

The United Arab Emirates has asked the United States to agree to a “more institutionalized security engagement” that would include improved intelligence sharing, more combined exercises and operations, said two people briefed on Abu’s position. Dubai.

Saudi Arabia is also seeking greater security commitments, including intelligence cooperation and operational support to counter threats from the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, who regularly launch missile and drone strikes. in the kingdom, said another person briefed on Riyadh’s position.

Long seen as vital U.S. partners, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have strained relations with the Biden administration and have resisted U.S. pressure to increase crude production to mitigate high oil prices and take a tougher stance. against Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The kingdom warned this week that it would not bear the blame for global crude shortages in light of Houthi attacks on its oil infrastructure, seen as a message to the West that it wanted help with oil. defense. People briefed on the talks said Gulf states would be more willing to cooperate if President Joe Biden addressed their security concerns, particularly Iran and Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. They also worry about a possible revival of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, saying it would embolden the Islamic republic and its proxies.

“The message from the Saudis and the UAE is that we will come back [to the US fold], if you come back with a plan and this message has been delivered,” said one of the people briefed on the talks. “They’ve seen the relationship dip, but they’re picking up a lot of signals that the Biden administration is getting the message. You will see progress in diplomatic activity over the next few weeks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan held talks in Moscow last week © Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/AP

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are increasingly disappointed with what they see as Washington’s unpredictability and disengagement. The Gulf states have forged closer ties with Putin in recent years and both are cooperating with Russia over OPEC+ oil production levels.

Relations between the UAE and Washington have hit a low point after what Abu Dhabi perceived as the Biden administration’s lukewarm response to a series of Houthi missile and drone attacks this year. The United States has deployed additional military assets to the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015. But Abu Dhabi wants Washington to do more and restore a terrorist designation on the Houthis, lifted by Biden in 2021.

The United Arab Emirates angered the United States by abstaining from a February UN Security Council vote condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a public display of frustration with the Biden administration. He also upset Washington by welcoming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last week, the first Arab state to do so since he launched a brutal war to crush a popular uprising in 2011.

Saudi Arabia has been frustrated by Biden’s criticism of the kingdom’s human rights record, his decision to end US support for a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis and his decision to not engage directly with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s daily. master of the day.

Biden also ordered the release of a US intelligence report concluding that Prince Mohammed must have authorized the 2018 operation in which Saudi agents murdered veteran journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

A senior Biden administration official told the Financial Times that when Biden spoke with King Salman last month “they laid out an affirmative bilateral agenda from climate to security to energy cooperation.” Since then, “our teams have been engaged at all levels,” the official said, adding that they were “committed to working together to help the Saudis strengthen their defenses.”

Washington described reports that Prince Mohammed and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, refused to consider Biden’s calls inaccurate. “No one asked [a call with between Biden and Prince Mohammed]. This is not an active debate. If the Saudis came to the administration and said the Feb. 9 call should be with the crown prince and not the king, we would have done it with the crown prince,” a person familiar with the thought said. administration.

Another person familiar with the situation said the UK was encouraging closer ties between the US and Saudi Arabia, where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with Prince Mohammed last week.

“You need the Saudis on the Russia-Ukraine crisis, on energy and on Iran with the nuclear talks,” the person said. “The rapprochement between the United States and Saudi Arabia could have a really positive effect.” However, the person added that if the United States understands this politically, “it’s very difficult for Biden to completely reverse course.”

Senior British officials have said they are confident Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will pump more oil. “Mohammed bin Salman was very keen to be helpful,” one said. “He wants the Prime Minister’s help to rebuild relations with the United States.”

A Gulf official said Riyadh viewed the crisis as a moment to gain more leverage on the United States and move “beyond the killing of Khashoggi”.

Ali Shihabi, a Saudi commentator familiar with the thinking of the rulers, said Saudi Arabia was interested in good relations with America “but wants to be treated with respect”.

Additional reporting by George Parker in London and Felicia Schwartz in Washington

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