Riyadh was conspicuously silent for long after Biden surpassed the 270 electoral votes he needed to become the US’s 46th president on Saturday.
It took it more than 24 hours to acknowledge the change atop the ruling structure of one of its strongest allies.
According to the official Saudi Press Agency, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, heir to the throne and de facto ruler, forwarded the congratulation no earlier than at 19:32 GMT on Sunday.
During the delay, the kingdom even sent a congratulatory message to Tanzania’s president over his re-election, but would not bother to join its fellow world and Arab states to felicitate Biden.
Observers attribute the delay to Riyadh’s failure to come to terms with the end of of the era of a president, who would not only refuse to take the kingdom to task, but would also effectually protect it from accountability for its increasingly bloody atrocities.
Trump, who has “personal” ties with bin Salman, traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2017 in his first official foreign visit, signing a $110-billion arms deal with the kingdom. The US arms support, an update on its already lavish supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia, came although the kingdom was at the height of a war he had orchestrated against Yemen. The United Nations has said the military aggression is responsible for turning the already impoverished country into the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
A year later, Trump refused to admonish Saudi over the grisly murder and dismemberment of dual US-Saudi citizen and bin Salman critic, Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Riyadh also avoided international legal action and scrutiny under US protection, although, the CIA considered bin Salman to have played a role in the assassination.
Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper offered a sense of the uncertainty that hangs around the quality of the US ties under Biden. “The region is waiting … and preparing … for what happens after Biden’s victory,” it wrote in a front page article.
The Biden administration would likely seek to signal early on its discontent with Saudi domestic and foreign policies, said Neil Quilliam, associate fellow at Britain’s Chatham House think-tank.
“The Saudi leadership is concerned that a Biden administration and a hostile Congress will carry out a full review of relations, including re-evaluating defense ties and therefore will likely make positive sounds and moves towards ending the Yemen conflict,” he said.
Trump also strongly allied Saudi Arabia in its hostility towards regional powerhouse Iran. He rallied regional Arab leaders around the cause of confronting the “common adversary,” left a historic nuclear accord between Iran and other countries that Riyadh despises, and returned the anti-Iran sanctions that the agreement had lifted.
A Saudi political source, however, played down the risk of a falling out between the kingdom and the United States during Biden’s incumbency, pointing to Riyadh’s historic ties with Washington.
“Saudi-US relations are deep, sustainable, and strategic and not prone to change because a president changes,” he said.
In the congratulatory message, King Salman likewise “praised the distinguished, historic, and close relations between the two friendly countries and their people which everyone looks to strengthen and develop at all levels,” the SPA noted.