THE Saudi-American relationship has endured many jolts over the decades. But there are signs that some within the US establishment are rethinking their approach towards the Saudis. The clearest of these signs is the recent override by both chambers of the US Congress of President Barack Obama`s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act; this is the law that allows families of 9/11 victims to sue Riyadh for alleged Saudi support of the hijackers. Startling details had emerged of alleged complicity between Saudi intelligence operatives and militants in the US in the declassified 28 pages of the joint congressional report on 9/11, made public in July. While there were no `smoking guns` in the document linking the Saudi state to 9/11, the suspicions expressed by American officials during testimony give strength to the belief that some within the Saudi establishment could have been in league with the hijackers.

The question, naturally, arises that if there were such strong suspicions of Saudi complicity, why were these leads not investigated? This is something the US administration must tell the 9/11 families and the world. The Saudis, on their part, have rubbished the allegations. But beyond the tragic events of September 2001, Congress`s move is largely symbolic, sending a strong message to Riyadh that times are changing. At one time, Saudi Arabia was one of the `twin pillars` of US policy in the Gulf, along with Pahlaviruled Iran. That equation changed post-1979, when Iran`s Islamist revolutionaries took a hard line against the US. Yet the Saudis and Americans remained strategic allies, cooperating on a number of regional projects, for example, supporting Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, along with arming and bankrolling the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Even today, US policy on Syria and Yemen, for example, is largely in tandem with the Saudi stance, with some nuances. However, despite the decades-old cosy relationship, it is also true that Saudi Arabia has exported an extremist interpretation of Islam that has provided the ideological firepower for militant movements worldwide. Perhaps it is this incongruity in Riyadh`s foreign policy that influenced Congress`s vote.

But even before the 9/11 bill and controversy over the 28 pages emerged, there were signs of cracks within the relationship. For example, while both Riyadh and Washington want regime change in Syria, the Saudis were frustrated that President Obama refused to give the green signal for a fully fledged American invasion. The landmark Iranian nuclear deal last year also did not go down well with Riyadh. A complete unravelling of the US-Saudi strategic alliance in the near future is unlikely. But the Saudis should remember that golden maxim of international relations: that there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. In a rapidly changing Middle East, US interests may no longer lie in unconditional support for Riyadh.
Sourceaily Dawn