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Oil to Jihad and 9/11: The Highs and Lows of U.S.-Saudi Ties

Public Policy
  • Trump in Saudi Arabia is latest chapter of 7-decade alliance
  • Curtailing Iran likely high on agenda for president’s visit

What to Expect When Trump Visits Saudi Arabia

That Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia for the first stop on his first overseas trip as president reflects a seven-decade alliance based on the premise of oil for security, as well as shared current security concerns and the determination to curb Iranian influence in the Middle East. Here are the critical junctures of a relationship between two unusual allies: the world’s most powerful secular democracy and a fundamentalist Muslim monarchy.

King Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud (Ibn Saud) of Saudi Arabia in conference with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy, February 14, 1945.
King Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud of Saudi Arabia meets with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy in February 1945.
Photographer: Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

Warship meeting cements ties

The U.S. and the Al Saud monarchy have been strategic partners since King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, met President Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy in early 1945. At that meeting in the Suez Canal, the men discussed two issues that have determined much of the region’s post-World War II history — the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and a Saudi-U.S. pact based on American security guarantees for the kingdom in return for U.S. access to Saudi oil.

America’s role in the history of Saudi oil

Saudi Arabia signed its first oil concession deal with Standard Oil Co. of California in 1933. Five years later commercial quantities of oil were discovered in the eastern region of Dammam. The Arabian American Oil Co. was formed in 1944 and based in New York until 1952. The Saudi government gradually increased its stake in the firm, known as Aramco, and by 1980 owned it outright.

Israel and the oil embargo

Tensions spiked as OPEC imposed an embargo against the U.S. and other countries for their support of Israel in its 1973 war against Arab armies. The move shook the American and global economies, and had long-lasting implications for Mideast diplomacy and the energy industry. It laid bare the difficulty the U.S. faced balancing its support for Israel and maintaining strong ties with Arab oil producers.

Afghanistan, the Soviets and Bin Laden

The decade-long Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 spurred a resistance movement that was supported by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It was joined by thousands of Sunni Muslim fighters, including Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, son of the founder of one of the region’s largest construction companies, and future al-Qaeda chief.

Saddam invades Kuwait

The U.S. based troops in Saudi Arabia for its 1991 war to force Iraq’s army from Kuwait. Some conservative religious figures in a nation that’s home to Islam’s holiest shrines condemned their presence. U.S. troops left Saudi Arabia in 2003 after Saddam Hussein was toppled, helping to curb criticism of Saudi rulers. Counter-terrorism cooperation was improved and Saudi Arabia is the top purchaser of U.S. weapons, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

9/11 attacks on the U.S.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks, which killed about 3,000 people, were Saudi nationals. Suspicion between the two nations rose as Americans questioned their special relationship. Bin Laden, who headed the al-Qaeda terrorist group before being killed by U.S. special forces in Pakistan, had called for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family and the removal of U.S. troops from the kingdom.

Bush against Saddam

Saudi leaders opposed George W. Bush’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein in 2003 and did not join the coalition, arguing the invasion would split Iraq along sectarian lines. The war and its aftermath unleashed conflict between Iraq’s majority Shiites and Sunnis, which years later contributed to the creation of the jihadist movement now known as Islamic State.

‘Anyone but Obama’

Barack Obama’s successful pursuit of a nuclear deal with chief Saudi rival Iran left the kingdom feeling shunned. Along with other oil-rich Sunni Arab states, it pursued a more assertive foreign policy, sending troops to crush a pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain, backing Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s takeover in Egypt and intervening militarily in a civil war in Yemen. Obama reportedly described the U.S. relationship with the kingdom as “complicated.” “From the Saudis’ perspective, anyone was better than Obama,” said James M. Dorsey, a Saudi specialist and senior fellow in international studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Trump Reset

Despite last-ditch lobbying by the White House and Saudi Arabia, Congress in September passed a bill allowing the kingdom to be sued for involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. The Saudi foreign ministry said the legislation would contribute to the “erosion” of the principle of sovereign immunity and have a negative impact on all nations, including the U.S. Trump won election in November and had made warmer ties with Riyadh a priority. He has called the 2015 Iran nuclear deal a “disaster.”


9 Comments on "Oil to Jihad and 9/11: The Highs and Lows of U.S.-Saudi Ties"

  1. onlooker on Thu, 18th May 2017 3:30 pm 

    Economics makes strange bedfellows

  2. bobinget on Thu, 18th May 2017 3:43 pm 

    Lie down with dogs, wake with flea.

  3. bobinget on Thu, 18th May 2017 3:48 pm 

    By: PanARMENIAN.Net

    Source: PanARMENIAN.Net

    Washington is working to push through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some new, others in the pipeline, ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s trip to the kingdom this month, people familiar with the talks told Reuters this week.

    Saudi Arabia is Trump’s first stop on his maiden international trip, a sign of his intent to reinforce ties with a top regional ally.

    The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems worth tens of billions of dollars in recent years. Trump has vowed to stimulate the U.S. economy by boosting manufacturing jobs.

    Washington and Riyadh are eager to improve relations strained under President Barack Obama in part because of his championing of a nuclear deal with Saudi foe Iran.

    Lockheed Martin Co (LMT.N) programs in the package include a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system with several batteries, the sources said. The THAAD system, like the one being made operational in South Korea, costs about $1 billion. Also being negotiated is a C2BMC software system for battle command and control and communications as well as a package of satellite capabilities, both provided by Lockheed.

    Combat vehicles made by BAE Systems PLC (BAES.L), including the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and M109 artillery vehicle, are also under consideration as part of the Saudi package, people familiar with the talks said. Both vehicles are in the Saudi inventory. British defense company BAE has 29,000 employees in the United States.

    The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations, which also include previously reported contracts or items under discussion for years. One such deal, an $11.5 billion package of four multi-mission surface combatant ships and accompanying services and spares, was approved by the State Department in 2015. Talks followed to hammer out capabilities, configuration and design for the complex warships but the deal has never gone to final contract.

    The next step for the ships is likely a letter of agreement between the two countries, sources said.

  4. Cloggie on Thu, 18th May 2017 3:55 pm 

    The Saudi’s had given priority to Britain to develop their resources in 1932. But a major league blunderer named Sir Lancelot Oliphant deemed the potential of Saudi-Arabia dim:

    Enter the Americans, exit Britain from the Gulf.

    Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks, which killed about 3,000 people, were Saudi nationals.

    Sure, not a single trial was ever held, just allegations.

    The father of Mohamed Atta: First, the denial: The attacks weren’t the work of Muslim fanatics. “Look to Mossad,” Israeli intelligence.


  5. Dredd on Fri, 19th May 2017 1:20 am 

    Yikes !

    Halloween – it’s not just for October any more (On The Origin of Ghost Heat & Temperature).

  6. joe on Fri, 19th May 2017 10:52 am 

    Its hard to state it more clearly, the US intends to bully and brow beat Russia into submitting to genocide of all Shia and letting the US have the best of whats left, vis a vis oil.
    Thats fantasy, the world will be a smoking cinder before Iran falls to isis style jihadis. No amount of thaad or whatever can stop a few hundred tridant missile launches, they can just nuke themselves and destroy the earth! This is the concept of MAD!

  7. joe on Fri, 19th May 2017 10:59 am 

    Despite claims of living hijackers, i have yet to see one myself 16 years after. No Cloggie, it was sunni muslims, Islam did it, Obama tried to cover for them and eventually we learned the truth, that muslims can suicide bomb western capitals and the guilty parties will get away. Anyone see UBLs body? No, thats cause hes not dead. Probobly in allot of pain some place but probobly not dead.
    They can do it because otherwise the alternative is unthinkable, they will do what they always do, bury their heads in the sand and hope it all goes away. The Saudis will shame themselves and Islam by enteraining another barbarian whom they depe d on to protect them from the masses in Saudi who hate them.

  8. GregT on Fri, 19th May 2017 11:48 am 

    “Anyone see UBLs body? No, thats cause hes not dead.”

    According to Benazir Bhutto, twice Prime Minister of Pakistan, in the following Nov 2007 David Frost interview, Osama Bin Laden was assassinated in 2001. Bhutto herself was assassinated less than a month later. She was threatening to expose those who were financing terrorism throughout the ME. Gee, I wonder who ‘they’ could possibly be?

  9. onlooker on Fri, 19th May 2017 11:59 am 

    magic the art of distraction. Politics the art of deception. The western media and most other media does both

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