Analysis - Political Transformations
Five Pillars to Evaluate the Outcomes of Trump’s Visit to Riyadh
Tuesday، May 23، 2017
Saudi Arabia hosted a historical visit of the US President Donald Trump on May 20 and 21st that featured series of events including: bilateral Saudi-American Summit, GCC– US Summit, and Arab Islamic American Summit. These summits were accompanied by other events, including the inauguration of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, known as “Etidal” or “moderation” headquartered in Riyadh, and signing various bilateral economic and security agreements between the US and Saudi Arabia.
Trump's visit achieved positive results related to critical issues for Saudi Arabia and GCC countries, in particular, and the Middle East, in general. Most notably of which are adopting common positions on the Iranian threats and agreeing on additional measures to combat terrorism, among other issues.
1- Reasserting the Kingdom’s Position
Throughout the visit, Saudi Arabia has managed to reassert its status as a major center of gravity in the Middle East and a rallying point for the allies in the region. The Kingdom has been successful in gathering a large number of Arab and Muslim leaders from nearly 55 countries, to participate in the Arab-Islamic-American Summit.
In addition, Trump’s choice of Riyadh to be the first leg of his official foreign tour has its significances. For more than three decades, US presidents first visits were usually paid to one of the neighboring countries like Mexico and Canada. Thus, Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia reveals that the US recognize the importance of the Kingdom’s role on the regional level, its powerful impact on the security and stability of the region, and its role in combating extremism and terrorism.
2- US Return to the Middle East
Trump's visit to Riyadh could be viewed as a reorientation of the US foreign policy, and a redirection towards the Middle East. The outcomes of the visit reflect American willingness to cement its relations and alliances in the region, unlike the previous administration.
After years of declining US role in the Middle East, during the former President Barack Obama’s presidency, the US has thrown its weight once again around the region. This matter is welcomed by many regional countries, in order to bring about balance in the region and stem the Iranian tide and the spread of terrorist organizations.
3- Joint Stance on Iran
One of the achievements of the visit for Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries is getting a blunt commitment from the US to stand by their side against the Iranian threats. A broad consensus was evident in both speeches of King Salman bin Abdulaziz and President Trump to the Arab Islamic American Summit. King Salman affirmed, “The Iranian regime spearheads the global terrorism since Khomeini revolution until today”; while Trump accused Iran of funding, arming and training “terrorists and militias”, adding, “Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror”, and it is responsible for the instability “from Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen”.
4- New Steps to Combat Terrorism
Combating terrorism is a top priority for Saudi Arabia. It has already formed 34-state Islamic Military Alliance to fight terrorism, in addition to its participation in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS since 2014. It is leading as well the Arab coalition against the Houthi militia, to restore legitimacy in Yemen.
During the recent Summit in Riyadh, the US and participating countries agreed upon the need to develop new joint strategies to combat terrorism. In his speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, President Trump displayed a more moderate tone than in the past, as he stopped short of using the term “radical Islamic terrorism” that has been used during his campaign.
Riyadh Declaration, issued by the Summit, included key points outlining the strategy as follows:
Arab and Muslim states shall confront terrorism and extremism through a close partnership with the US, promote constructive coexistence and tolerance among different states, religions and cultures, and address sectarian agendas and meddling in the Affairs of other countries. In addition, States must combat terrorism in all its forms through stemming its intellectual roots and drying up sources of funding, and taking all the necessary measures to prevent and fight terrorist crimes.
Moreover, the participants agreed to establish what they called the Middle East Strategic Alliance, to be based in Riyadh, in which many States will contribute to establish peace and security in the region and the world. The process of establishing the Riyadh-based Alliance with the participation of many nations will be concluded by 2018.
In a move that reflects the US support for the Islamic Military Alliance for fighting terrorism, various member states showed their willingness to provide a reserve force of 34 thousand troops to support the military operations against the terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, when needed.
5- Military and Economic Gains
The agreements and its diversity, signed between Saudi Arabia and the US during Trump’s visit, represent shared gains between both countries. The value of the deals hammered out in Riyadh are about USD 460 billion, covering economic and military cooperation agreements, including US arms deals worth USD 110 billion.
These agreements are considered real and concrete steps to achieve the strategic objectives of the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, which aims to pursue economic diversification through attracting investments in various vital sectors.
Thus, these deals are expected to have positive impacts on the economic and military sectors in the Kingdom, as follows:
1- Creating more jobs. Economic agreements with the US are expected to provide significant employment opportunities in the Kingdom. Capacity building trainings will be offered to workers within the facilities to be opened. In addition, the American companies will be committed to employ specific percentages of Saudi citizens.
2- Diversifying investments. Twenty-three American companies were awarded licenses to invest in added-value sectors for the Saudi economy, including General Electric, Citigroup and HP, among others. Targeted investment sectors include manufacturing, transportation, construction, medicine, logistics, electronic and banking services, and consulting.
3- Bolstering Saudi Arabia's military industries. Riyadh seeks to localize 50 percent of its military spending in line with Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, as this budget will be allocated to manufacture weapons in partnership with American companies instead of buying them. In this regard, Saudi Arabia signed agreements with US military companies, including an agreement with Lockheed Martin to assemble 150 S-70 Black Hawk helicopters in the Kingdom, another with Raytheon to establish a branch in Saudi Arabia, focusing on preparing local capabilities in defense and aerospace industry.
4- Combating terrorism and augmenting border security. bilateral agreements with the US included enhancing the capabilities of Saudi forces through joint military exercises, in addition to providing tanks, artillery, radar systems, armored vehicles, helicopters, multi-tasking fighter ships. Moreover, missile defence systems such as Patriot and Thad, would be installed to help protect the Kingdom against any air strikes.
These military agreements would further enable the Kingdom to fortify its borders, strengthen the security of Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries, counter the threats of terrorism and respond to Iranian threats.
Overall, President Trump's visit to Riyadh and the three Summits held there yielded numerous gains for the participating countries, at the political, economic and military levels. On one hand, the US concluded investment contracts and tremendous arms deals with Saudi Arabia, considered to be the biggest deals in the history of US-Saudi relations. Washington emphasized the joint responsibility of the countries in the region along with the US to fight terrorism and extremism, and enhance the stability of the region. On the other hand, this visit has restored the balance to the strategic relations between the United States and the GCC countries, and formed a unified stance to reverse the Iranian tide that threatens security of the region. Furthermore, the Kingdom signed agreements with US companies, which will help attain Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, as well as augmenting its military capabilities in securing its borders and countering the threats of terrorism.