Country Risk

Trump administration: Maintaining Saudi Arabian relations is critical to combating Iranian threat

29 November 2018

As US lawmakers seek to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the death of reporter Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration is pushing back and saying the nation is a critical ally against a growing Iranian threat. On 29 November the US unveiled new “evidence” of this threat including an Iranian Sayyad-2c surface-to-air missile that was reportedly recovered by the Saudis in Yemen. Source: IHS Markit/Ashley Roque

Facing a bipartisan backlash from Senators over the handling of US-Saudi Arabian relations, the Trump administration is presenting its case: Riyadh's support is key to batting down the growing Iranian threat.

On 29 November the US special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, stood in front of an Iranian Sayyad-2c surface-to-air missile that was reportedly recovered in Yemen calling it "a clear violation" of several UN resolutions including 2231, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran's nuclear programme.

"The Iranian threat is growing and we are accumulating risk of escalation in the region if we fail to act," Hook said.

"Tehran is intent on increasing the lethality and reach of these weapons to deepen its presence throughout the region," he later added. "This is why it is especially important that we get a de-escalation of conflicts in places like Yemen right."

The administration is pushing for a ceasefire and a negotiated peace agreement between Yemen's Iranian-backed Ansar Allah (Houthi) rebels and pro-government forces that are supported by the Saudi-led coalition. However, mounting Yemeni civilian casualties and Saudi Arabia's role in the murder of reporter Jamal Khashoggi are complicating the situation.

Earlier in the month the CIA concluded that Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had ordered Khashoggi's killing, but President Donald Trump has continued to shoot down that finding. Trump has cited US weapons sales to Riyadh and the two nation's ties as reasons not to hold the nation accountable either via sanctions or curtailing Foreign Military Sales or support.

Senators, however, are not pleased. Despite a White House veto threat, on 28 November the Republican-controlled chamber voted 63-37 to enable consideration of a resolution that would cut off most US military aid to Saudi Arabia for operations in Yemen.

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