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Biden in need of Saudi support that makes it tough to pressure Riyadh on human rights

Biden in need of Saudi support that makes it tough to pressure Riyadh

March 2, 2021: According to Frederick Kempe, CEO of the Atlantic Council, U.S. President Joe Biden is caught between two opposing forces in Saudi Arabia.

 Biden said Washington would make Riyadh the “pariah that they are” and hold the kingdom accountable for his presidential campaign’s human rights issues. Whereas the president now sees that Saudi Arabia’s support is vital for his agenda in the Middle East region, Kempe said.

The U.S. last week-imposed visa restrictions on 76 Saudis are believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas.

The Crown Prince of Saudi Mohammed bin Salman has not been targeted directly by Washington, despite an intelligence report finding that he approved to capture and kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Critics accuse Biden of not defending human rights, but the White House has resisted pressure to punish the crown prince, though it reserves the right to act in the future.

The Atlantic Council’s Kempe said the importance of Saudi Arabia is the reason the State Department has characterized the changes in Washington-Riyadh relations “not as a rupture, but a recalibration.”

While many in the Democratic Party may not be happy with this approach, it’s “probably the right way to go forward,” Kempe said.

“The reality is you’d rather have a flawed, and perhaps even deeply flawed ally, than an adversary in this era of new power and big power competition where Saudi Arabia might depend more on China, more on Russia for its arms deliveries, for its economic strength,” he said.

Kempe said the U.S. president is “weighing all of these things.”

“I think he’s learning very quickly. It’s a lot harder to be president of the United States than to be a candidate,” he added.

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