Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

This week US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia. During his visit, he will meet Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and attend a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit. Many analysts believe that the visit will enhance the Saudi-US ties and will help bring the two sides closer on various regional and global issues.

More than 80 years ago, the world was entering a new era of technology that changed the geopolitical map of the world. It was the time, when the world witnessed major shifts in the centers of political and strategic influence. It was the time when mankind was just about to begin extensive use of oil as fuel. Prior to the discovery of oil, coal was the source of energy.

At that time many countries especially Britain had a global network of coaling (fuelling) stations. But, oil soon took over because of its ease of use and convenient transportation. During the increased demand of this new substance, Saudi Arabia and the United States started to develop a unique strategic relationship. It was a company that made the two countries from opposite sides of the world joined hands in one of the most special and strategic relationships in modern history. In other words, it all started with the appearance of a few geologists from the US roaming around the Saudi desert. After many years of hard luck and futile attempts, oil was discovered in 1938. And ironically 1938 was the year when World War II started. Had oil discovery in Saudi Arabia not been confirmed with promising amounts in oil well number 7, things would have been different, I mean very different for Saudi Arabia and its relation with the United States. Formal Saudi-American ties didn’t materialize till a few years later when the founder of modern-day Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz, met US President Roosevelt aboard USS Quincy.

US President Obama’s visit will be his third to the Kingdom during his presidency. He had first visited the Kingdom in 2009 during which he met late King Abdullah. In 2015, he met King Salman during his second visit. This upcoming visit, however, comes at a time when the world, particularly the Middle East, is going through a very rough patch. Since the eruption of the so-called Arab Spring that swept across the region, Saudi Arabia has been standing tall as the island of peace and stability. However, in today’s world it is not easy for any country to remain unaffected by the turmoil in its surrounding areas.

Saudi Arabia wanted more US involvement to fight the spread of terrorism, Daesh’s expansion and to monitor and control the chaotic situation in countries like Syria, Yemen and Libya. And most important is the need for the US to play a bigger role in resolving the lingering issue — the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The region needs more US involvement due to the fact that the US holds the means required to control the situation. The area is the most volatile in the world and ongoing instability in some countries of the region is affecting the security around the world. Saudi Arabia and the US can work together to bring about peace and stability to the area. Strengthening of relations is essential for both the countries and the Middle East.

King Salman’s recent visits to Egypt and Turkey have helped in bringing key regional players closer on various issues and unified the ranks of the Muslim world to face the current challenges effectively.

The region is still experiencing the interference of countries like Iran in the internal affairs of Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Iran is regularly issuing provocative statements that are considered threat to some of the Gulf states. Unfortunately, the US is not making efforts to rein in Iran.

People in the region are anxiously waiting for President Obama to land in Riyadh, as both Riyadh and Washington are key players and have the capability to change the current scenario at any given point provided they work together and further strengthen their ties.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Strengthening Saudi-US Ties reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.