Joe Biden wants to “recalibrate” relationship with Riyadh and keep MBS at bay

The United States intends to turn the page on Trump, including in the relationship with Riyadh: Joe Biden’s interlocutor will be King Salman rather than Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman, very close to the ex-president’s son-in-law.

US President Joe Biden intends to “recalibrate” the relationship with Saudi Arabia and, to do so, change the interlocutor: King Salman rather than Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman (MBS). Determined to mark the contrast on this file with Donald Trump, Joe Biden has, since coming to power on January 20, taken small steps to distance himself from Riyadh.

“We have clearly said from the start that we were going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” said Jen Psaki, spokesman for the US executive, during his daily press briefing.

Referring to questions about a possible future telephone exchange between the president and “MBS”, who was the key interlocutor under the Trump presidency, Jen Psaki made it clear that this was not on the agenda. “The president’s counterpart is King Salman and he will have an exchange with him when the time comes,” she said.

“Great friendship” between Trump and MBS

The United States and Saudi Arabia are historical allies, and since Franklin Delano Roosevelt all American presidents have cared for members of the Saudi royal family. But Trump’s unreserved support for Riyadh, where he made his first presidential trip, and his closeness (like that of his son-in-law Jared Kushner) with the young crown prince had changed the situation.

By receiving MBS in early 2018 in the Oval Office, Donald Trump went so far as to insist on his “great friendship” with the latter. “We understand each other,” he said, referring to the new strongman of the world’s largest oil exporter.

“Biden sends an unambiguous – and welcome – message to Saudi Arabia,” ex-diplomat Aaron David Miller, a negotiator under both Democratic and Republican governments, responded on Twitter. “The days when MBS had direct access to the White House are apparently over, at least for now,” he added. 

Two weeks after taking the oath, Joe Biden announced the end of US support for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen, saying it had “created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe”.

Imminent appeal to Netanyahu

The head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken has also decided to remove the Houthis from the American blacklist of “terrorist organizations”. These rebels, backed by Iran, are fighting the Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia. The blacklist designation, decided in extremis by the Trump administration, was criticized by humanitarian organizations because it risked hampering the delivery of aid in the vast territories controlled by the Houthis.

Another notable change in tone: the new tenant of the White House is in no hurry to contact Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was particularly pampered by Donald Trump.

Asked again about the reasons why Joe Biden had still not called him, nearly a month after coming to power, Jen Psaki assured that this exchange would take place “soon”. “His first call with a leader of the region will be with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” she said.

Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations under Donald Trump, accused the Biden administration of “snubbing” a “friend like Israel”.

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