As he sets about revamping policy toward Saudi Arabia, President Biden is aiming for a balance that tightens U.S. scrutiny of Riyadh, without breaking a strategic partnership that marks its 76th anniversary on Sunday, current and former U.S. officials said.
The review of relations with the oil-rich kingdom is broader than has been reported. Along with arms sales and the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, it includes an assessment of whether the U.S. has done enough to hold Saudi officials accountable for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and other aspects of the two countries’ ties, U.S. officials said.
During his campaign, Mr. Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah.” Since then, the new administration has struck a different tone, stressing the U.S. will help defend the kingdom against attacks from Iranian-backed forces in the region, even while calling for an end to the civil war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia intervened in 2015.
While relations have frayed over the past decade, Washington and Riyadh still need each other on multiple fronts, from grappling with Iran to coordinating counterterrorism and energy policies, the current and former officials said.
“It’s pretty hard to envision any kind of a strategy in the region that can work if the Saudis aren’t some part of it,” said Dennis Ross, who served in key Mideast roles under Republican and Democratic presidents.