Skip to main content

Tough choices ahead for US-Saudi relationship

The longstanding relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is in need of review, for Saudi human rights abuses and its domestic politics, for instance, are increasingly talked about topics by Americans and the world.
Saudi's newly appointed King Salman (R) shakes hands with US President Barack Obama at Erga Palace in Riyadh on January 27, 2015. Obama landed in Saudi Arabia with his wife First Lady Michelle Obama to shore up ties with King Salman and offer condolences after the death of his predecessor Abdullah. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States and its European partners must have breathed a sigh of relief over the smooth succession in Saudi Arabia following the death of King Abdullah on Jan. 22. Within hours, the royal household announced that Crown Prince Salman was the new king. The quick settlement silenced all observers who had anticipated power struggles within the house of Saud and gave reassuring signals that it's business as usual in the most important kingdom for the strategic interests of the United States and its partners. Yet, the United States must not become complacent over the many challenges facing its troubled relations with the house of Saud over the coming years.

The first challenge stems from the United States increasing closeness to Saudi Arabia’s archenemy and rival, namely Iran. Despite reassurances that the United States remains the most loyal guarantor of Saudi security and interests, its developing relations with Iran is always interpreted as a sign of abandonment by past and present Saudi monarchs. Neither deceased King Abdullah nor current King Salman demonstrated willingness to accept the United States' superficial rapprochement with Iran, simply because the Saudis had got used to being the main and only US partner in the region, following the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and increasingly so after the Arab uprisings.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.