Riyadh (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia, which could lose more to Joe Biden’s US election victory than other Arab countries, has taken the time to comment after the defeat of Donald Trump, with Riyadh backing Middle Eastern policies and fierce opposition to Iran.
While other Arab nations competed to greet the Democrats’ challenge, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the state’s true ruler, remained silent for hours on the US vote as he sent kind words to the Tanzanian president about his re-election.
Prince Mohammed’s personal ties with Trump were a major obstacle to the waves of international criticism over Riyadh’s rights record triggered by the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoki, Riyadh’s role in the war in Yemen and the detention of women activists.
Those areas could now become friction points between Biden, a major oil exporter and US arms buyer, and Saudi Arabia.
At the Riyadh consulate in Istanbul, the former US vice president promised to reconsider ties with the kingdom during his campaign, demanding additional responsibility for Kashogi’s assassination and a halt to US support for the war in Yemen.
“The only thing worse than COVID-19 is BIDEN-20,” wrote Dr. Muna, a Saudi Twitter user, while many Saudi users of the social media site ignored the decision in the early hours when US networks called for an election for Biden.
A Saudi political source points to Riyadh’s historic relationship with Washington, reducing the risk of a fall between the kingdom and the United States.
But Saudi Arabia’s Ogas newspaper expressed uncertainty about how the state would play out in the future. “The area is waiting … getting ready … what will happen after Pitton’s victory,” it wrote in a front-page article.
The kingdom does not have to wait long. Neil Gulliam, co-chair of Britain’s Saddam House think tank, said the Biden administration could initially signal dissatisfaction with Saudi domestic and foreign policy.
“The Saudi leadership is concerned that a Biden administration and a hostile Congress will carry out a full review of relations, including a re-evaluation of security ties, so there will be positive sounds and moves to end the conflict in Yemen,” he said.
Saudi Arabia has enthusiastically backed Trump’s “maximum pressure” on tough sanctions on its regional rival, Iran. But Biden has said he will return to the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran, which was negotiated when Biden was vice president in the Barack Obama administration.
Abu Jait, a cashier at a supermarket in Riyadh, said he hoped Biden would take a different approach. “I am not happy with Biden’s victory, but I hope he will learn from Obama’s mistakes and realize that Iran is a common enemy,” he said.
A Saudi political source said, “The Kingdom has the capacity to deal with any president because the United States is a country of corporations. There are a lot of institutional jobs between Saudi Arabia and the United States.”
“Saudi-US relations are deep, stable, strategic and unlikely to change because a president changes,” he said.
Prince Mohammed refused to order Kashogi to be killed, but in 2019 he admitted some personal responsibility, claiming that it happened under his watch. Riyadh has jailed eight people for seven to 20 years in this case.
Additional Report by Aziz L. Jacob in Dubai; Written by Michael George; Editing by Edmund Player