President Obama will arrive in Riyadh on Friday to meet with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, in a meeting that is anticipated to be at once friendly, conciliatory, and a little contentious.
As The New York Times describes it, the seven-decade-long alliance between the two countries is strained. While they’ve generally allied with the U.S. and Egypt, the former’s reduced military presence and the latter’s political upheaval have allowed Saudi Arabia to take a more direct route on topics like Iran and the civil war in Syria. Saudi Arabia is using its wealth to counter American foreign policy by supporting the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood (though not necessarily to the drastic extent it’s currently in).
Now the Obama administration is hoping to persuade Saudi Arabia to use its greater clout with Cairo to convince the government there to rein in its repression of the opposition and begin to overhaul its economy — the Western formula for restoring stability.
Funding rebel opposition to Bashar al-Assad in Syria is also a key issue on the table, and Saudi Arabian diplomats have said that they do not want the visit to just be an exchange of pleasantries. They want concrete military supply support from the U.S.
But as Bloomberg points out, the Obama administration does have one other card to play: America’s burgeoning energy independence. Crude oil imports are at their lowest levels in two decades. As they put it, “The shift gives the U.S. a freer hand in shaping Middle East policy, especially in seeking an accommodation with Iran while lessening Saudi influence in Washington.”