US–Saudi relations have always been transactional, driven by US strategic interests and Saudi threat perceptions. After decades of relative stability, greater US energy independence and differences over the Iran nuclear deal, the Arab Spring and Syria have caused their interests and policies to diverge. 

Relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States have never been free of friction. In 1945, at their fabled meeting on board the USS Quincy on the Great Bitter Lake, President Franklin Roosevelt and King Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud, while agreeing on the strategic quid pro quo of US military support of Saudi Arabia for US access to Saudi oil, differed starkly on the issue of Jewish immigration to Palestine. Roosevelt supported it, the King opposed it but acquiesced. Saudi policy turned not on anti-Zionism but on strategic threat perceptions. The al-Saud feared the United Kingdom and its Hashemite clients Iraq and Transjordan more than it detested the prospect of a Jewish state. The US, for its part, sought to advance strategic interests in Saudi oil and regional stability. In the decades to come, practical concerns would generally outweigh issues of principle in US–Saudi relations.

From stability to crisis
Until the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the relationship was more focused on commercial interests than on regional security cooperation, although a small US military training mission was established in 1953. The UK maintained an air and naval presence in the Persian Gulf until its withdrawal amid a budget crisis in 1971. It was understood during this period that given the US commitment to Southeast Asia and the concentration of US naval assets in the western Pacific and north Atlantic, the UK would bear primary responsibility for the security of oil-producing states in the Gulf region, implicitly including Saudi Arabia. The UK’s implementation of the 1967 Labour government decision to withdraw from east of the Suez Canal effectively shifted security responsibility from London to Washington.

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Business and Conflict in Fragile States

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