During a private conversation at the opulent horse ranch of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in 2009, the monarch told President Barack Obama he had his back.
Abdullah assured the American president the oil-rich kingdom would coordinate with Obama’s new administration to make sure oil prices wouldn’t impede recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.
As President Joe Biden heads to Saudi Arabia this week for his first in-person meeting with the late Abdullah’s successors, he could likewise use help with gas prices that have reached record highs this year, as demand continues to outstrip supply. Fuel costs are contributing to raging inflation that could send the economy into a recession and doom Democrats in this fall’s midterm elections.
Biden, however, may not be in a position to ask for favors. As a presidential candidate, Biden vowed his administration would make the kingdom a “pariah” state because of its human rights abuses, particularly the gruesome murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Treating Saudi Arabia like a pariah was never going to be sustainable, as long as the kingdom has things the U.S. wants, said Richard Fontaine, CEO of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington, D.C. think tank focused on national security issues.
After a year and a half, Fontaine said, the Biden administration went from trying to make human rights be "the deciding factor" in its policy toward Saudi Arabia to making it one of several factors.
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