WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Obama is planning a trip to meet with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia next month. He is stopping there after a trip to the Netherlands for a summit on nuclear security, a conference with the European Union in Brussels and another meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
The focus of President Obama’s visit with King Abdullah is to repair the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., which has deteriorated recently due to certain issues that have driven a wedge between them. As Saudi Arabia has proven to be a crucial ally to the U.S. in the past, this meeting is overdue and necessary.
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been allies since 1932. It quickly became a mutually beneficial relationship with the exchange of military protection from the U.S. and oil from the Saudis. With much turmoil and change in recent years in the Middle Eastern region due to the Arab Spring, the relationship has certainly been tried.
The key topics of discussion planned for this visit are current issues in the Middle Eastern region. This includes the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the nuclear question in Iran, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In regards to the issue on nuclear warfare in Iran, there has been recent dialogue suggesting that the U.S. may be lowering some of the sanctions previously placed on Iran, which prevented them from furthering nuclear capabilities in the past. The possibility of Iran developing nuclear warfare has a direct effect on Saudi Arabia, as they are at odds with one another, and King Abdullah has threatened to develop nuclear power if Iran does.
King Abdullah has made it clear that President Obama is being hasty with this massive decision, which is sure to be topic for debate.
Saudi Arabia has also noted their disappointment in the Obama administration for not intervening in Syria after allegations were made against President Assad for the gassing of his own people. The U.S. government had declared publicly that these human rights violations warranted the removal of Assad, but then did not take action, leaving countries like Saudi Arabia feeling despondent.
In addition, the Iranian government stood behind President Assad during the time allegations were made against him, which pinned the U.S. and Saudi Arabia against Iranian policy. Saudi Arabia is in constant competition with Iran for dominance over the Middle Eastern region, which adds to the Saudi’s frustration with the U.S. government since they failed to follow through with intervention.
Even though the U.S. has relied less on oil exports from Saudi Arabia over the past few years, their role in the global economy is prominent. Saudi Arabia’s export of oil to the rest of the world over the past three years was worth around $1 trillion. The amount of wealth accumulated in the Saudi kingdom places them in a very high position with a lot of power.
Although much wealth remains in the kingdom, there are expensive projects in the works for the advancement of mass transit, infrastructure, industry and education within Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is ranked as the country with the tenth lowest poverty rate in the world, at a rate of 12.7 percent.
These new projects may open up more jobs, putting Saudi Arabia on the steady incline for economic success in the future.
There are many harsh restrictions based on religious principles in Saudi Arabia that limit many citizens, mostly women, from being able to enjoy many freedoms. While many are financially comfortable, there are many firmly implemented, conservative laws that limit freedom in Saudi Arabia, making it a controversial place to live.
Even still, keeping a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia is important for oil exports and the alliance of an influential and economically stable country within the Middle East. Despite cultural differences, President Obama and King Abdullah have much to gain in mending relations. It will be interesting to see the effect this has on the pressing issues taking place in the Middle East.
– Danielle Warren