Saudis accentuate the positive after stinging Biden speechFebruary 6, 2021
Saudi Arabia Friday appeared determined to look on the bright side a day after President Biden used his first major foreign policy speech to announce an end to U.S. military support and arms sales for the oil-rich kingdom’s campaign in neighboring Yemen.
Mr. Biden on Thursday denounced the Saudi-led campaign against Yemen‘s Iran-backed Houthi rebels as a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe,” canceling all U.S. support for the mission that began under President Obama and was expanded under President Trump. The speech followed a decision last month by Mr. Biden to put on hold a sale of $478 million in precision-guided missiles to Riyadh that had faced major opposition on Capitol Hill.
But the first official reaction from the Saudi government, carried Friday online by the official Saudi Press Agency, offered a very different takeaway, saying the kingdom “welcomes the United States’ commitment to cooperating with the kingdom in defending its sovereignty and to confronting threats targeting it, as expressed in President Joe Biden’s speech today.”
The statement added that the Saudi government “looks forward to working closely with President Biden’s administration, with [new U.S. envoy on Yemen] Timothy Lenderking, the United Nations, all Yemeni parties and the members of the Coalition, in the hope of reaching a comprehensive political solution in Yemen. … That is the path the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is pursuing to help the brotherly nation of Yemen advance towards stability and prosperity.”
Mr. Biden was widely expected to take a very different approach to the Saudis than Mr. Trump, who made Riyadh the first foreign capital he visited as president, repeatedly touted the U.S. jobs created by Saudi arms purchases, and made Saudi Arabia a centerpiece of his regional policy to contain Iran.
While saying the Yemen war “has to end,” and insisting the U.S. military would no longer provide logistical and intelligence support, Mr. Biden added he was not breaking all ties with the Saudis. He is still permitting the sale of defensive U.S. military equipment to guard against the threat from Iran and its allies.
“We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people,” Mr. Biden said in his remarks Thursday at the State Department.