By Mohammad Mazhari

Saudi Arabia, UAE view Biden admin as unreliable partner: professor

April 3, 2022 - 17:51
“The Arab states do not want to jeopardize their increasing closeness with Russia”

TEHRAN - A professor of government at Georgetown University in Qatar says that leaderships in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates look at the Biden administration as an unreliable partner who is not worthy to jeopardize the ties with Russia.

“They feel that under Biden the United States has not been a reliable partner, especially since the close, personal relationship that existed with the Trump White House is gone and since the U.S. is indirectly talking to Iran in Vienna,” Mehran Kamrava tells the Tehran Times.

Though U.S.-Persian Gulf ties are deep-rooted when it comes to military contracts, the Russia-Ukraine conflict showed that Arab states in the region may leave America alone in some cases. 

The UAE and Saudi Arabia appear to be sending a message to the U.S., says Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Talking to Al Jazeera last month, Ulrichsen says they are going to act upon their “interests” and not what the U.S. think their interests are.

Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington, DC-based geopolitical risk consultancy, also says, “(Syrian President) Al-Assad coming to the UAE, shortly after the (Persian) Gulf Arab country voted to abstain from a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine last month, tells us that the Emiratis are very serious about asserting their autonomy from the United States.” 

“For them (Arab states), Russia is an important actor with whom they can hedge their bets with the United States.”Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, felt they lost a close friend in the White House after Donald Trump was defeated in the 2020 elections. 

“Clearly, the Saudi and Emirati leaderships do not have the same kind of relationship with Biden that they had with Trump, and they feel slighted,” Kamrava notes. 

“Also, given the very close relationship between both Saudi Arabia and the UAE with Russia, neither wants to risk alienating President Putin,” adds professor from Georgetown University. 

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: Do you think the Ukraine war would expand to other countries? 

A: Since the war is currently ongoing, it is difficult to guess whether or not it will expand and if it will usher in a new order in the region. 

Q: Are we going to witness a new order in the region?

A: Clearly, we see the emergence of diverging trends, however, and the gap between the EU and the U.S. on the one side and Russia and a number of other countries, like China and Iran, on the other. 

Q: Saudi and UAE leaders declined calls with Biden amid the Ukraine conflict. What are the implications of such a reaction?

A: Clearly, the Saudi and Emirati leaderships do not have the same kind of relationship with Biden that they had with Trump, and they feel slighted as a result. They feel that under Biden the United States has not been a reliable partner, especially since the close, personal relationship that existed with the Trump White House is gone and since the U.S. is indirectly talking to Iran in Vienna. Also, given the very close relationship between both Saudi Arabia and the UAE with Russia, neither wants to risk alienating President Putin. 

Q: Why do the Arab states prefer not to be engaged in the U.S.-Russia conflict while they are allied with Washington?

A: The Arab states do not want to jeopardize their increasing closeness with Russia. For them, Russia is an important actor with whom they can hedge their bets with the United States, and as a result, they are reluctant to take positions that are overtly antagonistic toward Russia.

Q:  China and the many Arab states avoided condemning Russia for launching war on Ukraine. Do you think the Ukraine crisis will turn into a new form of confrontation between the West and the East?

A: That might indeed be the case, but, again, it is too early to tell. Clearly, we are seeing tectonic shifts occurring in regional alignments. But how these shifts will turn out is hard to tell. There are new and emerging powers in the “East,” the most notable being China and South Korea, and, at least in relation to South Korea, it would be difficult to say that it is not part of the Western or American orbit. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Russia is seen in the U.S. and in the EU as a “disruptive actor” and China is perceived as a major technological competitor. 

Q: Do you see a kind of hesitation in Persian Gulf Arab state's betting on America in the defense system? Do they think that America left them alone, especially in the Yemen war?
    
A: I think the U.S. will remain to be an outside security provider for the southern states of the Persian Gulf in the near future. The personal relationship between Persian Gulf rulers and U.S. presidents may change, but there are deeper structural factors that for the time being tie the two sides together. Some of the more important of these include deep military and security ties, with the Persian Gulf states continuing to prefer American weaponry and equipment; massive and growing economic and commercial ties between the two sides, with the U.S. having emerged as a favorite destination of money and investments going from the Persian Gulf; and continued political and economic ties. In addition to all this, there is also heavy psychological reliance on the U.S. as a security provider. Therefore, there is no indication that the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf region will be lessened at all in the near future. 

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