Make Friends, Not Enemies

All Eyes on Riyadh

The Riyadh summit clearly demonstrated that the Middle East would be the US administration's core foreign policy objective and that Saudi would be its most valuable partner.

The historic visit of US President Donald Trump to Riyadh on May 20 marked a new chapter in Saudi-US ties, and indeed a new era of the Kingdom’s standing within the Islamic world.

Under the slogan ‘Together we prevail,’ Trump’s decision to make Riyadh the primary stop on his first overseas trip as President was a sign of intent that the Middle East would be his administration’s core foreign policy objective and that Saudi would be its most valuable and trusted partner. For the Kingdom’s part, this was an opportunity to lead the region—including heads of state and representatives from 55 Islamic nations—into the most important discussions of our generation.

Not long after Trump’s Air Force One landed on Riyadh’s tarmac it became clear that the visit would deliver an unprecedented, sector-wide economic package and that the proceedings would be as much about numbers and action, as they were about the strong rhetoric. On May 20, the CEOs of over 50 leading US companies, 40 Saudi firms, and nine other business from key international markets convened at Riyadh’s Four Seasons Hotel for the Saudi-US CEO Forum. The highlights from the event involved a number of private-sector partnerships, including a USD15 billion MoU with General Electric (GE), a USD3.6 billion deal with Honeywell, and a USD2.8 billion venture with Texas-based EPC provider McDermott, to support Saudi Aramco’s widespread localization efforts and the development of SMEs throughout the country—amongst many others.

Yet, nothing echoed louder than the USD110 billion deal the two countries signed in the defense sector. According to the US State Department, the agreement is effective immediately and falls into five broad categories: air force modernization, air and missile defense, border security and counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, and cyber security and communications upgrades. This also included a ‘letter of intent’ to assemble 150 Lockheed Martin Blackhawk helicopters in Saudi Arabia, with a value of USD6 billion. Even more spectacularly, however, the two countries secured an additional USD350 billion agreement over the next 10 years, making it the biggest arms deal in history. Little wonder, therefore, that President Trump left his meeting with Crown Prince HRH Mohammed Bin Naif remarking that “this was a tremendous day for investments in the United States.”

There was also a clear strategic tone to these dealings. On the closing day of the event, HRH King Salman bin Abdulaziz chaired the Arab-Islamic-US Summit, aimed at combating extremism and terrorism and achieving regional peace, stability, and development. Speaking on behalf of the leaders of 55 Islamic nations and the US President, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques explained that “as part of our war against terrorism, we confirm our determination to wipe out Daesh organization and other terrorist organizations, regardless of their religion, sect or thought.” In conclusion of the event, the participants agreed upon the ‘Riyadh Declaration,’ which will form a reserve of 34,000 soldiers from across the region to combat terrorism.

The spectacular arrival of President Trump to Riyadh served as the most welcome refresh in US-Saudi ties, following years of uncertainty during the Obama administration. However, perhaps even more importantly, it opened up a new chapter in Saudi Arabia’s outreach across Arab and Islamic nations. As witnessed earlier in the year with HRH King Salman’s month-long Asia trip, Saudi has been actively forging an expansive, diversified foreign policy from Indonesia in the east to Washington in the West. Yet, closer to home, many parts of the Arab world remain in socio-political, if not security, turmoil.

Hosting the leaders of these nations, including Egypt’s President Adel Fattah el-Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Iraqi President Fouad Massoum, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the heads of each of the GCC states under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and the leader of the free world President Trump, was an unprecedented display of unity.
Moreover, it has placed Riyadh at the center of the global fight against terrorism, the struggle to contain Iran’s aggression, and the future stability and peace in the Middle East.