Joe Biden plot to derail Saudi Arabia amid fears of conflict as US brand rival ‘pariah’

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The President-elect made the cold swipe about ensuring the kingdom became an outcast, as it emerged Saudi Arabia was rushing through trials to alleged dissidents with links to the US. Among these are a high-profile Saudi-American doctor, and Riyadh has become fearful that these people could become bargaining chips when Mr Biden enters the White House later this month. Mr Biden has been forthright in his opinion on Saudi Arabia, demanding the oil-rich nation clean up its appalling human rights record, which famously saw Jamal Khashoggi, a US journalist and anti-kingdom critic, executed by agents of the government in 2018.

Since then, Mr Biden has maintained his stance, and threatened Saudi Arabia with action, sparking fears of conflict between the two nations.

Before tensions between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Mr Biden erupted, the Democrat vowed to reevaluate the US’ decision to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, due to its bloody five-year conflict in neighbouring Yemen.

While on the campaign trail Mr Biden said he would “end US support for the disastrous war”, and pledged to “restore a sense of balance, perspective, and fidelity to Washington’s values in our relationships in the Middle East”.

He accused incumbent US President Donald Trump of issuing Riyadh with a “dangerous blank cheque”, which allowed Saudi Arabia to extend the war, creating “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.

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The handling of Mr Khashoggi’s death, Mr Biden argued, was “the most shameful moment of Mr Trump’s presidency”, as he “defended not the slain US resident, but his killers”.

He added in a piece for the Council for Foreign Relations in 2019: “I will rally the world’s democracies and our allies in the Free World.

“We will make clear that America will never again check its principles at the door just to buy oil or sell weapons.”

The latest twist comes as Prince Mohammed ordered the trials and imprisonment of more activists throughout the kingdom, including Harvard University-educated doctor Walid Fitaihi.

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Dr Fitaihi, who has more than two million Twitter followers, was sentenced to six years in prison, a sentence he is currently appealing while on bail.

Sources close to the doctor, who is the founder of a prominent hospital in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, say he was tortured by methods including electric shocks.

The Economic Times reports that US lawmakers argue the trial and sentence was “politically motivated”.

A source said of the political trials: “Saudi is telling Biden: ‘Come, let’s negotiate’.”

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Kristin Diwan, of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, described Prince Mohammed’s “doubling down” on political cases as “striking”, adding: “He could be tightening up with an eye to negotiations with Biden.

“Or he could be setting new red lines: internal Saudi affairs are off limits.”

Washington-based Gulf expert, Hussein Ibish, however, felt Prince Mohammed was not prepared for the force Mr Biden will use to ensure his kingdom’s attitude is changed.

He added: “I’m not sure that the Saudis fully understand the depth of the problem they’re going to face with the new Biden administration.

“The Saudis are taking this aggressive attitude towards internal political prisoners when they know that this is a sore point with the US Democrats.”

Although Saudi Arabia and the US enjoy a strong relationship, negative feelings between the two nations have grown in recent years, with American sentiment diminishing as a result of the kingdom’s lack of human rights.

According to the latest polling by consultant Gallup, in 2020 a huge 65 percent of Americans had an unfavourable view on Saudi Arabia.

Of these, the poll says, 46 percent were mostly unfavourable, while 19 percent were very unfavourable.

Just 34 percent looked at Saudi Arabia positively, while one percent had no opinion.

After Mr Biden completed his election victory in November, Prince Mohammed remained silent on congratulating him for hours.

Many believed this was due to the realisation that the buffer he used to receive from Mr Trump would be lost, but a day later he phoned the President-elect.

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