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Saudi foreign minister says ties with US will be 'excellent' under Biden

Prince Faisal bin Farhan says Biden's appointments show understanding of 'common issues'
Biden has vowed to reassess Washington's relationship with Riyadh, previously calling the kingdom a "pariah".
Saudi Prince Faisal bin Farhan says Biden's administration and Riyadh share 'common goals' in Yemen (AFP)

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister says he is "optimistic" that relations between Riyadh and Washington will be "excellent" under US President Joe Biden, despite the Democrat vowing to make the kingdom a "pariah" while on the campaign trail.

In an interview broadcast on Al-Arabiya TV on Thursday, Prince Faisal bin Farhan also commented on the Biden administration appointments, saying they showed an "understanding of the common issues" between the two countries.

"We are optimistic of having excellent ties with the US under a Biden administration," Faisal said.

Saudi Arabia had warm ties with the Trump administration, with Washington repeatedly defending Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the blockade of its Gulf neighbour, Qatar, a Western ally.

Still, ahead of the election, the Biden campaign repeatedly vowed to reassess Washington's relationship with Riyadh, and said a Biden administration would push for accountability over Khashoggi's killing and an end to the war in Yemen.

A US-backed coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis, a group traditionally based in the country's north, toppled the internationally recognised government.

Since then, the coalition has carried out more than 20,000 air attacks, with one-third striking non-military sites, including schools and hospitals, according to the Yemen Data Project.

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The protracted conflict has triggered what the UN calls the "world's worst humanitarian crisis", with about 24 million people forced to rely on aid, while 10 million are near famine.

While Trump vetoed multiple congressional efforts to end the US support for the war in Yemen, Biden has said he plans on ending Washington's assistance to the coalition.

"The Biden administration will see that we have common goals with regards to the situation in Yemen," Prince Faisal said in the interview, before justifying the Trump administration's decision to designate the Houthis a terrorist organisation.

Earlier this week, Tony Blinken, the incoming US secretary of state, pledged to "immediately" review the designation, acknowledging it could worsen the country's humanitarian crisis.

Blinken also told said the new president would end US support for the Saudi-led military campaign.

"[Biden] has made clear that we will end our support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and I think we will work on that in very short order," he said.

The Saudi government has recently boasted of a number of reforms, including an 85 percent decline in executions compared with last year, and the shortening of two prominent prisoners' sentences. 

Adam Coogle, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, praised the reforms - but said they were far from exonerating the country's human rights abuses.

"There have been a lot of good reforms to be excited about, but the total absence of any kind of free expression and the continued political crackdown have mitigated Saudi Arabia getting more credit for these changes," Coogle told the New York Times.

Rights groups have criticised Riyadh for its continued detention of political activists, journalists, scholars, and dissidents.