An Old Friendship Starts to Crumble: The American-Saudi Relationship

Analysis, posted 07.09.2011, from Saudi Arabia, in:
An Old Friendship Starts to Crumble: The American-Saudi Relationship (Photo: picture alliance/dpa)

He calls himself a "private individual", listing on his business card as sole official post that of chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. As the 65-year-old Prince Turki al-Faisal is a nephew of King Abdullah, however, anyone keen to find out what's happening in the Middle East hang on his every word.

Before the most intellectual of the major Saudi princes became an ambassador in London and Washington, Prince Turki was Saudi intelligence chief for nearly a quarter of a century. The kingdom's support of the Afghan mujahideen against the Russians was mainly his doing. Currently Prince Turki is regarded as the designated successor to his ailing brother, the longstanding Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Realignment of Saudi policy

Last month the prince spoke before American and British officers stationed at Molesworth Royal Air Force Base in southern England on "A Saudi security doctrine for the next century". This doctrine is designed to respond to the changing situation in the region, to the inner conflicts in the neighbouring states of Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, to Israel's unyielding stance with regard to the Palestinians, to the lack of American support for an old friend like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as well as to Iran's claims to hegemony.

The planned purchase of 200 Leopard tanks from Germany is likewise part of the realignment of Saudi policy. In an effort to diversify their arms sources, the Saudis have also been negotiating with the Russians since 2009 for the delivery of antimissile systems, tanks and aircraft, as Moscow's state agency for weapons exports, Rusoboronexport, recently confirmed.

But the main arms supplier to Saudi Arabia is still the USA. A contract worth 60 billion dollars was signed last autumn for the delivery of fighter jets and helicopters, small warships and an air defence system. This, however, does nothing to change the fact that the trust the House of Saud once placed in the USA to protect it against threats from outside, demonstrated for example in the war for Kuwait, has been shaken.

Following a visit with King Abdullah last weekend, Thomas Donilon, security adviser to the US president, cautiously indicated that although there had been some "periods of irritation" in the relationship between the partners in the past, American-Saudi relations were "in a fairly good condition" overall.

Despite reports that the monarch is supposedly "unhappy" about the American attitude toward the Arab Spring, the two countries nonetheless still have common interests when it comes to regional stability, fighting terror and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.

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By Rudolph Chimelli, Translated by Jennifer Taylor

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