Saudi's embrace of Assad sends strong message to US
Warm greetings and an embrace challenge the US' role in the Middle East after Syria was welcomed back into the Arab League.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) took center stage last week when Arab governments re-admitted Syria to the Arab League, signaling to Washington who calls the shot in the Middle East, according to Reuters.
His warm welcome of President Bashar al-Assad at the Arab summit overcame the US opposition to Syria's re-entry into the League and capped a turnaround in the prince's fortunes prompted by geopolitical realities.
According to Reuters, MBS aspires to reestablish Saudi Arabia as a regional leader by using its position atop an energy behemoth in an oil-dependent globe ravaged by the Ukraine war.
Skeptical of US pledges on Saudi security and bored of its scolding tone, MBS is instead strengthening connections with other global powers and, to Washington's chagrin, altering his relations with their common adversaries.
MBS' position was strengthened last year when Western economies sought Saudi Arabia for assistance in taming an oil market destabilized by the Ukrainian conflict. It allowed him to undertake a diplomatic effort that included high-profile summit visits.
That attempt was bolstered when Washington declared MBS free from punishment for Khashoggi's murder, despite the fact that US intelligence had explicitly linked him to it.
Last July's visit by US President Joe Biden underlined Riyadh's regaining influence: the American leader went back empty-handed, while the prince received a public demonstration of US commitment to Saudi security.
Meanwhile, China brokered a settlement between Riyadh and Iran this year, signaling Saudi Arabia's shift away from reliance on the US.
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According to a Gulf official, the new, more directly transactional relationship with the US has replaced the old oil-for-defense model due to what Riyadh perceived as a shakier security cover following the Arab revolts of 2011.
A senior State Department official said the relationship is "an important eight-decade one that spans generations, across administrations in our own country and across leaders in Saudi Arabia".
"We have multiple interests when it comes to our relationship with Saudi Arabia...Our policy and engagement will seek to ensure that our relationship remains sound and able to meet our shared challenges of the future."