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What Saudi Arabia Wants

The rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, coupled with pressure from successive US administrations, caused Saudi Arabia to turn inward in recent years. But the Kingdom has now reemerged as a leading regional player – with a strategic wish list to match.

LONDON – For the past five years or so, Saudi Arabia was either following the United Arab Emirates or simply absent on all key strategic issues in the Gulf, the Middle East, and North Africa. But the Kingdom has now reemerged as a leading regional player – with a foreign-policy wish list to match.

Saudi Arabia turned inward because the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (widely known as MBS), now the Kingdom’s de facto ruler, triggered a major redistribution of power within the ruling family and the country’s political and economic structures. This consumed the energy of all key state institutions, while many of Saudi Arabia’s allies waited to see who would come out on top.

The Kingdom’s low regional profile during its internal reshuffle was also prudent given the external environment – particularly pressure from the United States, for decades the country’s primary ally. In January 2020, President Donald Trump gave the green light to a Middle East peace plan that was impossible for Israelis and Palestinians to agree on, let alone implement, and demanded that America’s Gulf allies, most notably Saudi Arabia, support it. Some duly paid lip service to the proposal, and lavish conferences to discuss it took place in some regional capitals.

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