u.s.-saudi relations
November 28, 2020

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia last week for a secret meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Saudi Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in the hopes of striking a deal that would normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. But he came home empty handed after Prince Mohammed backed out, The Wall Street Journal reports.

His reasoning, Saudi advisers and U.S. officials told the Journal, was President-elect Joe Biden's victory over President Trump in the U.S. general election. Although the Trump administration was a factor in the recent so-called Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Prince Mohammed reportedly wants to build ties with Biden and was reluctant about following suit while Trump is still in office, although the chances of that happening reportedly aren't impossible.

Negotiating normalization agreements between Israel and other Arab nations is one Trump policy Biden seems likely to keep pursuing, but the president-elect has taken a tougher stance on Saudi Arabia than Trump, especially after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Journal notes, so reviving talks with the new administration may be Prince Mohammed's best chance "to repair its image in Washington," a U.S. official said. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

January 12, 2020

The United States is planning to expel more than a dozen members of Saudi Arabia's military who are training at U.S. military installations, multiple sources told CNN.

The decision was reportedly reached after an FBI investigation following a shooting last month at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida, in which a member of the Saudi Royal Air Force killed three U.S. service members on the base. The FBI and Justice Department declined to comment.

The Saudis who are expected to be expelled aren't accused of aiding in the shooting, which has been treated by law enforcement as a terrorist incident, but some are reportedly believed to have connections to extremist movements, per CNN. Others were reportedly found to possess child pornography, a defense official said.

The Saudi government has reportedly been cooperative and even helped U.S. investigators link particular social media accounts to individuals. One of the major findings of the investigations appears to be a social media conversation, in which some military members expressed support for extremism. Read more at CNN and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

September 15, 2019

In response to drone attacks on an oil site in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, President Trump tweeted on Sunday evening that there is "reason to believe that we know the culprit," and the United States is "locked and loaded depending on verification."

Trump said he is "waiting to hear from [Saudi Arabia] as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" Oil prices rose sharply over the weekend, and Trump said he has authorized the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve "if needed."

The extent of damage to the Aramco site is unknown, as reporters are being kept from the area. Aramco, Saudi Arabia's national petroleum and natural gas company, said the attacks curtailed output by 5.7 million barrels a day. The Houthi rebels in Yemen, backed by Iran, claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday there is "no evidence the attacks came from Yemen." He instead placed the blame on Iran, accusing the country of facilitating an "unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply." Iran denies the allegations. Catherine Garcia

July 30, 2019

On Monday, the Senate fell well short of the 67 votes needed to override President Trump's vetoes on three resolutions that would block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Senate had passed the three resolutions in June, with seven Republicans voting in favor, after the Trump administration said it would use emergency powers to sell arms to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval. Monday's votes — 45 to 40 in favor, 45 to 39, and 46 to 41 — drew support from six Republican senators. Seven Democrats missed the vote, including six who are running for president.

This is the second time the Senate has failed to override Trump's veto on a bill targeting Saudi Arabia, after it fell short in May on a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The Senate unanimously condemned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last year for the murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but the failure to override Trump's vetoes "reflects a pervasive split in the Republican Party about how forcefully its members are willing to challenge Trump's embrace of Saudi leaders," The Washington Post reports. Despite bipartisan concerns about U.S.-Saudi ties, Politico adds, "the majority of Senate Republicans view the kingdom as a key counterbalance to Iran's influence in the Middle East."

The Senate now has few routes left to challenge Trump's support for Saudi Arabia. Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared a measure co-authored by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) that would impose a moratorium on all non-defensive arms sale to Saudi Arabia, over the objections of committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho). Risch had backed a weaker bill supported by the White House, and he has advised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) not to hold a vote on the tougher measure his committee passed, calling it futile given Trump's likely veto. Peter Weber

June 18, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has decided to ignore experts' findings and keep Saudi Arabia off a U.S. list of countries that recruit children as soldiers, four sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Although experts from the State Department recommended including Saudi Arabia the list based off news reports and assessments from human rights organizations which found that a Saudi-led coalition has hired children from Sudan to fight in Yemen's civil war, Pompeo decided to overrule them. The decision sparked immediate criticism, Reuters reports, from human rights activists and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Trump administration has received criticism for prioritizing its own security and economic interests through its alliance with Saudi Arabia, while allegedly overlooking the kingdom's human rights record, and it's likely the latest news will compound that stance.

The argument against including Saudi Arabia on the list was reportedly because it was not clear whether the children recruited from Sudan to fight in Yemen were under the command of Sudanese officers or the Saudi-led coalition. In December, The New York Times reported that Sudanese fighters in Yemen said they took orders from Saudi and United Arab Emirates commanders. The Saudi-led coalition has denied the accusations and, in turn, accused its foes of recruiting children as soldiers. Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

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