The bilateral relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America has grown, prospered, and deepened over eight decades. With the recent announcement by President Donald Trump that Saudi Arabia will be the first destination of the Trump administration’s inaugural foreign visit, the White House has affirmed the enduring partnership between Saudi Arabia and America.
In selecting Saudi Arabia as the first host nation, President Trump is building upon eight decades of bilateral strength. During the historic announcement at the Rose Garden, President Trump underlined the role that the Kingdom will play in collaborating with mutual allies and confronting shared adversaries in the global fight against violent extremism.
“It is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence, and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries,” Trump said. “Our task is not to dictate to others how to live, but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East,” President Trump stated.
Partners in international security, economic growth, and social exchange, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have shared transformational moments throughout the years with the coming together of their heads of state.
A Look Back at Milestones in U.S.-Saudi Relations
Under President Obama, the U.S. joined its Gulf partners in a revival of multilateral partnership and development of a new framework of cooperation for the modern age. In recognition of the shared security concerns that have emerged over the past two decades, not only limited to Al-Qaeda and Daesh, American officials stood with their Gulf counterparts during the momentous Camp David Summit and Riyadh Summit. As a result of these ministerial-level meetings, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, along with the leaders of neighboring countries, agreed to a set of common principles to uphold respect for the concept of state sovereignty and non-interference. In addition, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia began developing a number of joint initiatives in the security and political realms to streamline counterterror operations and identify areas of cooperation in the cybersecurity, training, and capacity-building realms. In addition, Saudi Arabia has played a critical role alongside the U.S. in countering violent extremism movements throughout the Middle East, contributing significant material and tactical resources to Coalition operations against ISIL/Daesh.
Under President George W. Bush, U.S.-Saudi ties flourished with a new approach to promoting Middle East peace. American and Saudi officials embarked upon capacity-building with local allies to root out the threat of terror throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds. Following the tragic attacks of 9/11 on U.S. soil, Saudi officials condemned the “inhuman” assault on their American ally and engaged a strategic counterextremism approach to temper currents of radicalism.
His Majesty King Abdullah, an unfailing critic of extremist thought, was echoed by Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al Shaykh, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, when the latter stated in September 2001:
“And I repeat once again: that this act that the United states was afflicted with, with this vulgarity and barbarism, and which is even more barbaric than terrorist acts, I say that these acts are from the depths of depravity and the worst of evils.”
U.S.-Saudi relations witnessed a flourishing in counterextremism cooperation under the term of President Bill Clinton. In partnership with His Majesty King Fahd, former President Clinton oversaw the fight against Bin Laden. America’s Saudi partners pledged their full support to a counterterror campaign against Al-Qaeda and dedicated remarkable resources from the Saudi intelligence community to curb the group’s expansion.
Under President George H.W. Bush, U.S.-Saudi relations underwent a period of vigor and robustness. Though the Gulf War shook the region, the U.S. developed its security capabilities alongside Saudi Arabia when it led a coalition to remove invading Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Saudi Arabia offered critical financial aid to the massive campaign, taking an unfaltering stance in support of national sovereignty, international burden-sharing, and the liberation of an occupied power. Through military and diplomatic maneuvering, the U.S. relied on Saudi Arabia as a prized ally in the Middle East.
Under President Reagan, the U.S. continued to urge a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict with Saudi Arabia as a valuable regional ally. The Kingdom has long enjoyed the ability to stimulate negotiations to secure a stable Middle East. With the support of the Reagan administration, Saudi Arabia funded capacity-building projects in a variety of nations.
President Jimmy Carter and King Khalid bin Abdulaziz shared a relationship marked by mutual understanding and candor. In 1978, His Majesty King Khalid visited the White House to discuss the Camp David accords with President Carter, demonstrating the consistent trust that American officials vested in their Middle Eastern partners to foster stability and diplomatic resolve throughout the region. During the Carter presidency, Saudi Arabia highlighted the role of the U.S. as an engaged partner in the promotion of Middle East peace.
With the assistance of President Gerald Ford, Saudi Arabia engaged in an age of diplomacy distinguished by the Kingdom’s heightened profile in Israel-Palestine negotiations and economic development. In 1976, the U.S. helped bolster the Saudi defense industry and the Kingdom helped to the stabilize global oil prices.
President Richard Nixon led a renaissance of U.S.-Saudi economic ties with an agreement that one analyst characterized as a defining moment in the decades of bilateral relations to follow. With the understanding that the U.S. was open for Saudi investment and, American officials offered key military aid and equipment to their Saudi counterparts in a mutually beneficial framework that helped steady the international economy and promoted closer defense coordination between the U.S. and the Kingdom.
In a 1966 address to welcome His Majesty King Faisal on a visit to the United States, President Lyndon B. Johnson praised the active participation of Saudi Arabia on the international stage. Under King Faisal, Saudi Arabia experienced rapid growth in quality of life indicators and social development, markers of progress closely watched by the U.S. Commending the strong bonds between the Saudi and American people, King Faisal pledged to bring together the two countries in pursuit of common solutions and a harmonious world for all.
The protection of Saudi territorial integrity has long been a significant aspect of U.S.-Saudi relations. In 1963, the U.S. under President John F. Kennedy sent a squadron of F-100 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia to protect the Kingdom. Kennedy also upheld the purchase of U.S. arms by Saudi Arabia in front of Congress, recognizing that a strong security relationship between the two nations serves the interests of all.
In February 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower concluded a series of discussions during the state visit of His Majesty King Saud to the U.S. In reaffirming the close bilateral relationships, President Eisenhower and his Saudi counterpart agreed upon the vital importance of Saudi Arabia to regional security and affirmed the desire of Arab states to develop warmer working relations with the U.S. At the time, President Eisenhower also pledged additional resources to assist in the strengthening of the Saudi Arabian armed forces, and His Majesty King Saud extended the privilege of the United States to use Dhahran Airfield for another five years in line with a bilateral agreement that came into force in June 1951.
President Harry S. Truman praised the “remarkable development of Saudi Arabia” under the leadership of His Majesty King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud. Commending the Kingdom as a “bulwark to peace” in the Middle East, President Truman recognized Saudi Arabia as precious partner in tempering regional conflict. Referring to President Truman as “brother,” the King shared a special bond with the president that underlined the importance of shared values.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to meet with the leader of Saudi Arabia in 1945 with his visit to the Kingdom following his participation in the Yalta Conference. Convening with His Majesty Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, the multi-day visit included discussions on U.S. support for Saudi military capabilities, economic relations, and the bilateral energy partnership. This meeting laid the groundwork for a vibrant, complex relationship that endures to this day.
The visit of President Trump to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a continuation of a lasting partnership that has withstood global security challenges, political shifts, and social reforms. Undoubtedly, the two nations have stood side-by-side throughout seven decades, presenting a united front to address today’s issues and tomorrow’s concerns. With open arms and a firm vision for future cooperation, Saudi Arabia continues to send an unwavering message across oceans to its partners in the U.S.: America is welcome here, and Saudi Arabia’s friendship is here to stay.