The Trump administration, according to President Biden’s campaign team, “wrote Saudi Arabia a blank cheque”.
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The new team in the White House has promised a complete reset of relations with Saudi Arabia where human rights will now feature prominently. President Biden has signalled he will end US military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. Already, after just one week into his term, the US has suspended billions of dollars’ worth of arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, pending a review.
After all, Saudi Arabia is America’s closest security partner in the Arab world, a vital strategic ally in confronting the expansion of Iranian-backed militias across the Middle East, and a major customer for US arms sales.
According to the Stockholm Institute of Peace Research Institute (Sipri), Saudi Arabia was the world’s largest importer of arms during the period 2015-19, with the US providing the bulk of those sales. Western-supplied weaponry, including from Britain, has been used to bomb targets in Yemen.
As Andrew Smith, of the UK-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade (Caat) points out, for anything to change, “it will take a far stronger stance than Biden took as vice-president during the Obama administration”.
“A lot of arms sales started under Obama.”
On human rights within the kingdom, Saudi officials point to a recent dramatic drop in executions. The top team around the all-powerful Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, (known as MBS) is clearly aware of the negative effect human rights stories are having on the country’s global image.
“MBS”, says the British MP Crispin Blunt, “is getting contradictory advice from those around him but this [emphasis on human rights by Joe Biden] gives another opportunity to help the pragmatists advising him that Saudi Arabia’s public image matters.”
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