The United States has stepped up its military support for Saudi Arabia over the past few months following missile strikes on the kingdom by the Yemeni Houthi group, Western diplomats said, an indication that Washington is trying to mend its strained ties with traditional Gulf allies.
The desire for improved relations has been made more pressing by the Russian invasion of Ukraine last month, which has led to economic sanctions on Moscow by Washington, the European Union and others. The United States and other Western countries have been trying to persuade Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, to pump more oil to offset potential losses in Russian supplies.
Even before the invasion on Feb. 24, U.S. officials had been beating a path to Riyadh as Russia built up its troops on the border. The initial response from the Saudis had been cool.
Prior to that, their traditionally strong alliance had hit a bad patch, due in part to the Saudi role in the war in Yemen and by the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul by Saudi agents in 2018.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to fight the Houthis, an Iran-aligned movement that had seized the capital Sanaa and large parts of the country. For much of the conflict – also seen as a proxy war between regional rivals Riyadh and Tehran – the United States provided intelligence, training and technical support on weapons systems to the coalition, along with refuelling war planes carrying out air strikes.
But as the civilian toll from the strikes grew and a humanitarian crisis gripped Yemen, the conflict became a point of tension between Saudi Arabia and the United States under President Joe Biden.