The Saudis are pleased with the strong talk from Trump and his new appointees in regards to Iran. Future decision-makers such as retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Congressman Mike Pompeo (of Kansas) have both stressed the need for tougher American responses to Iranian subversion and terrorism; both have been well-received in Riyadh.
While the West and U.S. have always stressed their wishes for Crowned Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) to become the next king of the KSA, Trump has had the foresight to cozy up to Minister of Defense/Deputy Crowned Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS, King Salman’s favorite son) and has championed his “Saudi Vision 2030” initiatives.
President-elect Donald Trump registered eight companies during his presidential campaign that appear to be tied to hotel interests in Saudi Arabia, according to a report in The Washington Post last month.
Trump also registered more companies in August 2015, shortly before launching his presidential bid. These companies were registered under names such as THC Jeddah Hotel and DT Jeddah Technical Services, according to financial disclosure filings.
While the Chinese have taken a big interest in the Saudi capital of Riyadh and have proposed large infrastructure projects there, Trump has seen the political and economic potential in Jeddah. Jeddah, is the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia, located on the Red Sea coast and is only 60 miles west of the holy city of Mecca. By investing in large hotel and tourist destinations in Jeddah it will make the Saudi city an even bigger oasis and stop over for the millions of Muslims who make the pilgrimage to Mecca every year. This strategy is not only financially solvent but also an “olive branch” of sorts to MBS, reaffirming his Vision 2030 initiatives and keeping the Chinese from coercing the KSA to pivot any further east.
When President Barack Obama finally moves on from the White House in January, he will leave behind a sloppy, weak, “bi-polar” foreign policy with impotent sanctions on Russia while intensifying the precarious power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Though it still remains uncertain, with eight companies established in the KSA while simultaneously denouncing the JCPOA deal made by the Obama administration, we can assume Trump has a vested interest in the KSA, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is an enemy of Iran.
When it finally becomes Donald Trump's turn to weigh in, Riyadh and Tehran may have found themselves an unlikely and enigmatic moderator in the Republican businessman who threatens to upset the entire outlook of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Obama's administration, landmark multilateral nuclear treaty with Tehran, however, saw unprecedented levels of negotiation between Western and Iranian officials and lifted years-long economic sanctions against Iran. While the president-elect is expected to scale back U.S. intervention in the Middle East, supporting the KSA while appeasing Iran will not be easy.
This is where Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is the perfect choice. Mr. Trump has decided to risk what looks to be a bruising confirmation fight in the Senate. However, sources close to Trump confirm that Condoleeza Rice personally recommended Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson for the position. His two- decade long relationship with Russia and Putin are assets not liabilities, not to mention his longstanding negotiations across the Middle East.
— Steve Pieczenik (@StevePieczenik) December 13, 2016
Under Tillerson, Exxon made deals in Kurdistan and had Exxon executives on the ground the minute that Obama began contemplating the lifting of sanctions in Iran. Trump is a businessman and will want to run the Federal government as a succesfull business. It is only natural for him to surround himself with those who know how to negotiate with these hard line regimes.
To ensure his foreign policy choices thus far Trump must make every attempt between now and his inauguration Jan. 20th to quietly encourage the lame-duck Congress to amend the JASTA Bill and to give the new president a waiver to exclude from such lawsuits countries deemed by the president to be major partners in fighting terrorism. “Obama could take the political heat and sign an amendment with waiver authority. This will not be an easy sell, but it is far better to change JASTA now than to have to live with it come January 2017.
"Failure to act responsibly on JASTA, and acknowledging that the issue of a Saudi role in 9/11 has been thoroughly investigated and debunked by two congressionally mandated commissions, will set back the next president's efforts to stabilize a very dangerous region before he even gets started (Savansky).”
Trump himself supported the adoption of this bill and during his campaign Trump warned acting US President Barack Obama that if he put a veto on this bill, it will be “one of the worst moments of his presidency.”
“On October 1, the first lawsuit since the adoption of the law, which caused a controversy between Saudi Arabia and the US, was filed by American Stephanie Ross DeSimone, whose husband lost his life during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Riyadh warned the Obama’s administration that Saudi Arabia will sell their US assets valued at $750 billion, owned by the kingdom, in order to avoid their freeze, if Washington takes this law. The Saudi authorities have repeatedly rejected suspicions that terrorists received assistance from people, connected with the official authorities of the country (Duggan).
Until the “teeth” are taken out of the JASTA Bill the KSA will halt all economic activity in the U.S. until the JASTA Bill is amended the KSA will remain dubious of Trump’s intentions.
— Arabian Veritas (@ArabianVeritas) December 9, 2016
One thing the U.S. and KSA can agree on is that King Salman's immediate problem is his war in Yemen. The king and his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman agree that they have prevented Iran from getting a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula by going to war against the pro-Iranian Zaydi Houthis and the loyalists of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but they recognize the war is increasingly costly. The kingdom is spending billions on a war when it needs to reduce military expenditures if Mohammed bin Salman's Saudi Vision 2030 has any chance of transforming the economy.
The Yemen war is becoming more dangerous. An American destroyer was fired on twice last month. Another attempt at a cease-fire collapsed this week. A sudden crisis in the war could be an early test for the new US administration in February 2017.
President Trump will certainly have his hands full establishing a strong foreign policy in the wake of Obama’s administration. Sunni Muslim-majority Saudi Arabia and Shiite Muslim-majority Iran have long been locked in "a regional cold war." The rival powers have not engaged in direct military conflict, but back opposing military and political movements.
In the Syria proxy war, Iran supports Syrian President Bashar Assad against a network of rebel groups sponsored by the West, Turkey and Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia. In Iraq, Shiite militias and an Iran-friendly government in Baghdad also add to Riyadh's worries over Tehran's influence. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is directly involved in a massive military campaign in Yemen against Houthi rebels, who represent the country's Zaidi Shiite minority and receive political and possibly military support from Iran.
“Actually, everything about Trump’s foreign policy is in doubt. He said something totally contradictory on his campaign. On one hand he attacked the JCPOA, but on the other hand, he also criticized the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Iranian journalist and Middle East analyst Saeid Jafari told International Business Times in an email.
Riyadh will suspend its investment in the economy also due to changes in the US law, in particular, due to adoption of a bill by the Senate and the US Congress, which authorizes to prosecute states, which support terrorist activities on the territory of the US. According to the US government, Saudi Arabia is among such countries.
The Saudi sovereign fund has already suspended investments until the day comes when Riyadh finds out consequences, which may be caused by the approval of this bill, and figure out how to work with the new US administration.
With Tillerson as Secretary of State and Trump as the U.S. President, Saudi Arabia will be assured that they are an integral and key ally of the West, especially with an initial public offering (IPO) of the Saudi’s largest state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco on the line.
A Trump administration will assure this IPO is not only on the New York Stock Exchange, but also on the London Stock Exchange. This IPO may not happen until late 2017 early 2018, but the floatation of the company on the stock exchanges can attract $100 billion.
Trump is first and foremost a showman and much of what he said on the campaign trail was intended to mobilize support rather than provide a detailed program for government. While still a wild card in many respects, Trump has surrounded himself with a sound administration thus far and while it may take time to unravel the Gordian knot that Obama tied with poor domestic and foreign policy decisions.
With sound policy decisions and enough time all things can be remedied. Let’s just hope the globalists, crony capitalists and greedy career politicians (on both sides of the aisle) don’t try to stop the one man who can salvage this country from forty years of deliberate self sabotage both foreign and domestic.