Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden is not happy with the Saudis and plans to fundamentally change American policy towards the Kingdom if elected president on Nov. 3.
In a little-covered statement released on the Biden-Harris website on Oct. 22 – the second anniversary of the murder of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi – Biden vowed to “reassess” the 75-year alliance between the U.S. and the Kingdom, signaling serious trouble ahead for the relationship.
The warning comes as U.S., Arab and Israeli intelligence officials are growing increasingly concerned about the nuclear and terror threats posed by the Iranian regime, and policy-makers are looking for ways to build a stronger regional alliance to contain and counter the Iranian threat.
On Thursday, the Saudi foreign minister responded – carefully – during an online interview, saying a “bipartisan” U.S.-Saudi alliance is “vital” and that the Kingdom “provides value” to American economic and security interests in region.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy – a non-profit, non-partisan think tank – on Thursday held a virtual “Policy Forum” with Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, the Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Rob Satloff, executive director of the Institute, conducted the interview.
Satloff noted in his introduction that Faisal will mark his first anniversary as foreign minister this month, and that previously, the Prince served as Saudi ambassador to Germany, prior to which he was posted as an advisor at the Saudi embassy in Washington.
The 47-minute event (watch the event in its entirely here) began with some opening remarks by the Foreign Minister, following by a discussion between he and Satloff.
During their conversation, Satloff cited a statement made by Biden earlier this month on the anniversary of the ghastly murder of Khashoggi by operatives of the Saudi intelligence services.
“Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the kingdom, end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil,” Biden said.
Satloff asked about what kind of “accountability” there will be for the Khashoggi murder and “what’s legitimate to expect” and “what’s not legitimate?”
Faisal said he did not want to “wade into the political sphere in the U.S.” in terms of taking a side between Biden and President Trump, noting “it’s not my place.”
But he added that, “I agree with candidate Biden that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi was an abhorrent act, a terrible crime and we have stated that quite strongly.”
He said that the Kingdom has taken “very active measures to hold those responsible accountable.”
Last month, eight members of the Saudi security services were convicted of participating in the murder, conducted in a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
“Five people were sentenced to 20 years in prison and three others were sentenced to between 7 and 10 years,” the Voice of America reported on Sept. 7. “Saudi Arabia has given varying accounts of Khashoggi’s disappearance, eventually saying the killing was the work of rogue operatives.”
At a state level, Faisal said that “accountability means making sure things like this can never happen again” and insisted that “the leadership” of Saudi Arabia has stated they are “clearly committed to” preventing all such future crimes.
New “oversight” and “safeguards” have been put into place to “reform our security services” and prevent anything like this in the future, Faisal said, rather than “sweeping this under the rug.”
Pressed by Satloff on how the Kingdom would respond to a “reassessment” of the relationship by a Biden-Harris administration, Faisal noted that he is in Washington this week meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior officials as part of the U.S.-Saudi Strategic Dialogue.
The meetings mark 75 years since the alliance was first forged by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Saudi King Abdul Aziz Al Saud in then-secret talks aboard a U.S. Navy warship, the USS Quincy.
Faisal said there is there is deep value for both countries in a close alliance, not just in traditional counter-terrorism areas but in matters of economic growth, regional peace-making and “many other areas.”
Faisal also underscored the Kingdom’s history of strong bipartisan cooperation and said his government looks forward to working with whoever wins the election.