Op-Ed / What’s going on with Saudi Arabia?

The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is a complicated one. It’s like being in a relationship where you depend on your frenemy to put gas in your car every day, but you and your frenemy don’t believe in any of the same things, and your frenemy is trying to develop nuclear bombs on the down-low. This frenemy also lives in the worst part of town and coincidentally housed people that killed a lot of your friends. 

Saudi Arabia wants to develop its nuclear program. What it doesn’t want is oversight of said nuclear program. At a recent conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), US Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced that the US would only provide Saudi Arabia with nuclear power technology if Saudi Arabia would sign an agreement with the UN allowing for snap inspections. Saudi Arabia is not interested in having its nuclear program tamped down like this, and also opposes the other restrictions the US would put in place. Called nonproliferation restrictions, these restrictions would keep Saudi Arabia from developing nuclear technology advanced enough to manufacture atomic weapons.

It makes sense that the US would not want Saudi Arabia to have nuclear weapons — after all, Saudi Arabia is located in the Middle East, an area whose history is marked by conflict. The tumultuous nature of their location was displayed during the nuclear talks. Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil company, Aramco, was attacked by drones and missiles on September 14. Aramco is the world’s largest oil-processing plant and is critical to the Saudi Arabian economy and oil infrastructure.

Almost immediately after the attack, the Trump administration blamed Iran, despite the fact that a group of Iranian-backed Yemeni rebels (Houthi) had already claimed responsibility. Trump also tweeted that the US was “locked and loaded,” leading most to believe that the US was prepared for military action against whoever bombed the plant. 

However, the US doesn’t have a formal treaty alliance with Saudi Arabia that would force the US into any kind of war with the perpetrator of the attack. But Iran took the threat seriously, and Iran’s top diplomat threatened “all-out war” if the US decided to attack. But the situation wasn’t only tense because of threat of war — oil prices jumped almost 15% on Monday after the attack, which could prove problematic as 11% of U.S. oil is imported from Saudi Arabia. Also, 5% of the daily global oil supply comes from the facilities that were attacked.

The brazen attack by who many assume to be Iran has ricocheted around the international community. German Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed curbing Iran’s nuclear activities in response to the attack, while the Japanese and French governments stated that evidence was too inconclusive to place blame. 

Despite the continued lack of conclusive evidence, the Trump administration has continued to target Iran as the source of the bombing. On the 18th, Trump tweeted “I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran!” The tweet was just one in a line of barbs traded back and forth between the US and Iran in the week following the attack. Both sides hinted at war repeatedly until Sunday, the 22nd, when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that his goal was to avoid going to war with Iran. 

Anyhow, Monday, Sept. 23 found Great Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, declaring that he thought Iran was behind the attack. He also said that Great Britain would stand behind the US in any action necessary. 

The turmoil over the attack on Saudi oil has broad implications, and not just for oil. The Aramco attack shows that it might not be a good idea to arm Saudi Arabia with more nuclear power, since Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a volcanic region of the world where destroying a nuclear power plant and causing incredible harm to the country isn’t a crazy idea. The attack raises even more questions about US and Iran relations, the first and foremost of which is this: when is the tension going to snap? Will Iran soon be at war with the US? 

Edited by Ruth Holloway

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