Saudi Arabia appears to be banking on Donald Trump’s return to power by refusing to help the United States punish Russia for the invasion of Ukraine and by placing $2 billion in a new untrusted investment fund. tested led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Seeking to persuade Riyadh to increase oil production in order to drive prices down by up to 30%, and thus reduce Russian government revenue, the Biden administration is looking for ways to reassure the Saudi government of its dedication to the security of the kingdom.
The White House said Thursday it was an “ironclad commitment by the president,” and the Pentagon would be working on a draft new declaration of U.S.-Saudi security arrangements, but observers say it is likely to fall short of the firm guarantees demanded by the Saudis and other Gulf states.
The kingdom’s de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, reportedly refused to take a call from Joe Biden last month, showing his dissatisfaction with the administration’s restrictions on arms sales; what he saw as his insufficient response to attacks on Saudi Arabia by Houthi forces in Yemen; his publication of a report on the Saudi regime’s 2018 killing of dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi; and Biden’s earlier refusal to deal in person with the crown prince.
Instead, Prince Mohammed is showing signs of betting on Trump’s return to power in 2024 and the resumption of the Trump administration’s warm relationship with Riyadh.
Calls have been made for an investigation into the huge investment made by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, controlled by Prince Mohammed, in Affinity Partners, a private equity firm created by Jared Kushner months after he left the White House and his position as special adviser. to Trump, his father-in-law.
In doing so, the kingdom’s de facto ruler ignored warnings from the Saudi fund’s own advisory board. He worried about Affinity’s inexperience: Kushner was in real estate before his time in the White House, and his investment track record was widely considered not particularly good. He was concerned that the new company’s due diligence on operations was ‘unsatisfactory in every respect’ and that it was charging ‘excessive’ fees, according to a report in the New York Times.
“It boils down to something very simple. The Saudis — that is, Mohammed bin Salman — chose Trump over Biden, and they’re keeping their bet,” said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA official who is director of the Brookings Intelligence Project. Institution.
“It’s not an unreasonable proposition. Trump gave them everything they wanted: full support in Yemen, support for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, whatever they wanted in terms of access to the United States.
John Jenkins, former UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “I suspect [the crown prince] betting the Republicans will win big in the midterms and then win back the presidency — with or without Trump.
He added, “He probably thinks Biden is politically weak so he can afford to upset him. This sends a signal not only to the Dems but also to the Republican Party. And — judging by the debate raging in DC policy circles over these issues — it works.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Senior Democrats reacted furiously to the revelation of Saudi investment in Kushner’s fund. Senator Elizabeth Warren called on the Justice Department to “examine very closely” whether the arrangement was illegal.
Senator Chris Murphy tweeted“Just because jaw-dropping corruption happens in public doesn’t mean it isn’t jaw-dropping.”
During the early months of the Trump administration, Kushner was instrumental in shifting his support from former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef to the much younger Mohammed bin Salman, with whom the president’s son-in-law established a relationship largely over the WhatsApp messaging service. After Khashoggi’s murder, Kushner was also the crown prince’s staunchest defender.
As for the Biden administration, there are supporters within it to appease the Saudi crown prince in pursuit of the overarching goal of lowering oil prices – for its impact both on Kremlin coffers and on the politically sensitive price at the pump.
“There’s a real argument right now that you can befriend anyone who isn’t Russia now,” one EU diplomat observed. The Pentagon recently held meetings aimed at crafting a statement on US security arrangements with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
However, Kirsten Fontenrose, former senior director for the Gulf at the National Security Council, said whatever the administration proposes is unlikely to come close to regional demands for security guarantees similar to the provisions of the article. 5 of NATO for mutual defence.
“There’s been this big push for an Article 5 by a lot of these countries recently,” said Fontenrose, now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “But there’s no way they’ll get it.”
The Pentagon would not comment on its reported work on reframing Gulf security agreements. A spokesman, Army Major Rob Lodewick, said: “The Ministry of Defense remains committed to helping advance Saudi Arabia’s security against serious external threats.
“We do this through defense cooperation, arms transfers and defense trade, exercises, training and exchanges, alongside the commitment to human rights and civilian harm mitigation.”
Even if the administration wanted to offer such guarantees, there is no way such a deal would win the approval of Congress, where the progressive wing of the Democratic Party wants Biden to get tougher on Riyadh, especially given of its lack of cooperation on oil production. and Russia.
“The United States continues to provide certain types of equipment. They have announced several arms sales just over the past year. There is logistical support and maintenance,” said Seth Binder, advocacy director at the Project on Middle East Democracy. “All of those things, in my opinion, should be on the table, especially if this Saudi regime continues to increase that kind of public pressure on the Biden administration.”
Many observers, however, believe that Mohammed will not be swayed by wooing or threats, as the high price of oil is pushing up his budget pending a more flexible administration.
“I don’t see him changing much. The Saudis have chosen to go with Putin and whatever level of oil production they want, and the global economy is adjusting to that,” Reidel said. “I also don’t think there’s a lot of wiggle room for Biden…I think there are strong forces against that.”