US aiding Saudi defence despite Joe Biden’s tough stance on human rights abuses

US aiding Saudi defence despite Joe Biden’s tough stance on human rights abuses

Biden announced Thursday he was making good on his campaign commitment to end US support for a five-year Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, his administration is making clear it won’t abandon US military assistance for the kingdom and plans to help Saudi Arabia strengthen its own defences.

His approach reflects the complexity of the US-Saudi relationship. While Biden is taking a tougher line than his predecessors, he and his foreign policy team recognise the US can’t allow relations to unravel. They see the importance of maintaining aspects of a military, counterterrorism, and security relationship seen as vital for security of both nations.

“The United States will cooperate with Saudi Arabia where our priorities align and will not shy away from defending US interests and values where they do not,” the State Department said in an emailed response to questions from The Associated Press.

The aligned priorities have included a longstanding US emphasis on playing a lead defending the kingdom and its oil from attacks that would jolt the world’s energy markets and economies. US leaders also see Saudi Arabia as a regional counterweight to Iran.

Biden said Thursday that the Saudi-led offensive in Yemen has “created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.” He said he would stop arms sales related to the Yemen offensive, but gave no immediate details what that might mean. At the same time, he also reaffirmed that the United States was committed to cooperating in the kingdom’s defense.

That will include helping protect Saudi Arabia’s territory, critical infrastructure and shipping routes from the kingdom’s opponents in neighboring Yemen, the Houthis, the State Department said. The Biden administration has yet to spell out how it plans to boost defense of the kingdom. Saudi Arabia points to missile and drone strikes and other cross-border attacks launched by Houthis in Yemen.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and critic of US involvement in the Saudi air campaign in Yemen, agreed that the US may still have a security interest in helping guard the kingdom.

“Our focus should be providing basic defensive capabilities to help Riyadh defend itself from external threats, not fighting those threats for the Saudis,” Murphy said.

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