Jareer Elass is a Washington-based energy analyst, with 25 years of industry experience and a particular focus on the Arabian Gulf producers and OPEC.

  • For Riyadh and GCC, Trump era heralds period of uncertainty, On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • Saudi-Iranian confrontation moves to cyberspace, On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • Kuwait and Saudi Arabia agree to restart neutral zone oil production, On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • Trump’s energy rhetoric familiar but reality different, On: Sun, 04 Dec 2016

  • Latest Saudi cabinet shake-up in line with Vision 2030 goals, On: Sun, 20 Nov 2016

  • OPEC deal could be in jeopardy before November meeting, On: Sun, 06 Nov 2016

  • Fujairah seeks to carve out energy niche, On: Sun, 23 Oct 2016

  • Baghdad and Erbil reach tentative agreement on Kirkuk oil sales, On: Sun, 11 Sep 2016

  • Merger of Abu Dhabi funds streamlines sovereign investment sector, On: Sun, 28 Aug 2016

  • Saudi petrochemical giant sets its sights on US Gulf Coast, On: Sun, 21 Aug 2016

  • Bahrain faces setback in oil field expansion plans, On: Sun, 07 Aug 2016

  • Kuwait looks to imports to meet natural gas needs, On: Sun, 24 Jul 2016

  • Boeing finds opportunity in regional tensions, On: Sun, 17 Jul 2016

  • Market factors starting to support OPEC’s policies, On: Sun, 26 Jun 2016

  • Domestic politics slow Kuwait’s oil production expansion plans, On: Sun, 19 Jun 2016

  • Iran and Oman near agreement on gas deal, On: Sun, 05 Jun 2016

  • Riyadh plays hardball on oil , On: Sun, 05 Jun 2016

  • Iraqi Kurds look to Iran to lessen dependence on Turkey , On: Sun, 15 May 2016

  • What’s after the collapse of the Doha talks? , On: Sun, 01 May 2016

  • The beginning of the road for Saudi Arabia , On: Sun, 01 May 2016

  • Saudi Arabia’s new wealth fund seeks to diversify revenue, On: Sun, 17 Apr 2016

  • Solar energy not a short-term option for Saudi Arabia, On: Fri, 08 Apr 2016

  • Kuwaitis study belt-tightening measures, On: Fri, 18 Mar 2016

  • Iran’s access to oil markets faces hurdles, On: Fri, 18 Mar 2016

  • Production freeze agreement allows Riyadh to buy time, On: Fri, 11 Mar 2016

  • The significance of new Saudi economic measures, On: Fri, 22 Jan 2016

  • For Riyadh and GCC, Trump era heralds period of uncertainty

    US-Saudi relationship could become downright chilly should US-Rus­sian relations become cosier.

    2017/01/08 Issue: 88 Page: 17

    The US-Saudi relation­ship became notice­ably cooler during the eight years of the Obama administration and Riyadh is con­cerned about how its ties with Washington will evolve under a Trump presidency.

    The relationship could become downright chilly should US-Rus­sian relations become cosier. Not only could Saudi Arabia find itself without the familiar security safety net it has relied on for 70 years but it may face tougher competition from one of its chief oil rivals if Western sanctions on Moscow are lifted.

    The Saudis and the Obama administration have struggled over their differing views on a host of significant issues, including the civil war in Syria and how to deal with Iran. After reaching an international nuclear agreement with Tehran, Presi­dent Barack Obama raised concerns by counselling Riyadh and its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies to “share” the neighbourhood with Iran.

    The Saudis’ long-held assump­tion that Washington would continue to be its military protector should it face a serious external or internal threat eroded during the Obama years. This was particularly so following the Obama administration’s support of the 2011 “Arab spring” protests and its alarming failure in Saudi eyes to intervene in the fall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

    Now the Saudis must deal with Donald Trump, who suggested on the campaign trail that the kingdom has not “paid enough” for US military protection. He also threatened a potential US ban on Saudi oil imports. It is unclear whether Trump was just spouting campaign rhetoric or if he will expect Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries to pay a version of protection money, which would certainly be an affront to Saudi sensibilities.

    A Saudi regime weakened by uncertainty over US military protection and forced to take a back seat in regional politics benefits Moscow as it seeks to gain on its chief rival in oil markets and extend its political influence in the Middle East.

    Trump’s nomination of Exxon­Mobil Chairman Rex Tillerson to be secretary of State signals his determination to develop closer ties with Moscow. With Tillerson at its head, ExxonMobil forged several lucrative joint ventures with Rosneft, Russia’s largest state-owned energy firm, through a 2011 strategic coopera­tion agreement. Tillerson has been a vocal critic of US and European sanctions on Russia’s energy sector that put a stop to ExxonMobil’s ability to go forward with its joint ventures in Russia.

    Much has been made of Tillerson’s personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his having been awarded Russia’s Order of Friend­ship in 2013. Tillerson’s company also has close ties to Saudi Arabia that date back nearly 70 years to when the precursor companies of Exxon and Mobil were partners in Aramco. ExxonMobil operates refinery and petrochemical joint ventures in Saudi Arabia that were established 30 years ago, an indication of strong ties Tillerson has with Gulf Arab states — a point not lost on Israel.

    It is not that Saudi Arabia has not looked elsewhere for military protection. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when relations between Washington and Riyadh were particularly frayed, the Saudi leadership sought to strengthen political and commer­cial ties with China, which was fast becoming one of the largest importers of Saudi oil. Beijing, though, has been loath to commit to supplying naval or air power to the Gulf region and assuming responsibilities for protecting others when it has disputes in its own back yard to sort out.

    The Saudis flirted with strengthening political and military ties with Moscow. Then-Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud met with Putin in Moscow in September 2003 and Putin reciprocated by visiting King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh in February 2007, becoming the first Russian leader to visit the kingdom.

    However, a sizeable arms contract being negotiated in early 2008 between the two countries was derailed by Riyadh’s insist­ence that the deal would only go forward if Moscow ceased military cooperation with Tehran, something Russia was unwilling to consider.

    Ultimately, stark ideological differences coupled with mutual mistrust and Moscow’s political heavy-handedness make it unlikely that Riyadh would welcome a Russian umbrella of military protection. As two of the largest oil producers in the world, Saudi Arabia and Russia are highly competitive in key markets.

    The prospect of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies no longer under US military protection and having to fend for themselves against external or internal threats seems implausible, particularly when so much of the world’s oil would be at risk. Trump would quickly learn that a disruption to Gulf oil supplies would have a global financial impact that would not spare the United States.

    The reality though is that it is impossible to anticipate whether a Trump presidency will indeed closely ally itself with Russia and place demands on Saudi Arabia that Riyadh would find objection­able and refuse. What certainly is disconcerting to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies is that the incoming US president has made erratic and at times contradictory policy pronouncements about US relations with the region. The days of assurance and predict­ability seem over.

    Editors' Picks

    The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

    From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

    Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

    Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Dalal Saoud

    Senior Editor: John Hendel

    Chief Copy Editors: Jonathan Hemming and Richard Pretorius

    Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

    Opinion Section Editor: Claude Salhani

    East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

    Levant Section Editor: Jamal J. Halaby

    Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

    Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

    Senior Correspondents:

    Mahmud el-Shafey (London)

    Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)


    Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

    Dunia El-Zobeidi (London)

    Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

    Rasha Elass - Thomas Seibert (Washington)

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

    Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

    Tel 020 3667 7249

    Mohamed Al Mufti

    Marketing & Advertising Manager

    Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

    Direct: +44 20 8742 9262


    Al Arab Publishing House

    Kensington Centre

    66 Hammersmith Road

    London W14 8UD, UK

    Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

    Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

    Follow Us
    © The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved