Inside the Saudi-U.S. rift

Newsweek reports: For years, whenever Saudi Arabia and the United States bickered over Middle East policy, the relationship never seemed dangerously strained. The two sides have frequently clashed over Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a solution to the Syrian civil war and Washington’s efforts to ink a nuclear deal with Riyadh’s rival, Iran. But what held the alliance together, most assumed, was an immutable mutual dependence: The U.S. needed Saudi oil, and the kingdom needed American security.

Today, that line of reasoning appears to be wearing thin. As President Barack Obama meets in Riyadh with King Salman on Tuesday, the two leaders will be discussing a once-expansive relationship that has been relentlessly whittled down by deep and abiding differences over Middle East policy. Not only do the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have profound disagreements on Syria, Israel and Iran, but over the past few years Riyadh has been charting its own foreign policy path, coordinating with Washington only when it serves Saudi interests. King Salman, Riyadh’s new monarch, is expected to continue this policy that began under his predecessor, King Abdullah, who died last week. “The relationship is now transactional,” says Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “The main question now is what’s in it for them.”

Such hard-nosed realpolitik is a long way from the days when the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia brimmed with good will and overlapping interests. Since the end of World War II, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt first met King Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the kingdom, aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Suez Canal, the relationship centered on the exchange of Saudi oil for U.S. guarantees to protect the kingdom. [Continue reading…]

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