The classified U.S. intelligence document was leaked on the social messaging platform Discord. It exposed the tension between the two countries, which has traditionally been based on oil for security but is evolving due to China's increasing interest in the U.S. and the Middle East's position as the world's largest oil producer. (Related: Ignoring U.S. concerns, Saudi Arabia reiterates oil partnership priorities with communist China.)
According to the leaked document, Salman warned "that he will not deal with the U.S. administration anymore" and vowed to inflict "major economic consequences on Washington" if it retaliated against the oil cuts. However, it remains unclear whether the threat was directly conveyed to U.S. officials or intercepted through electronic surveillance.
In response, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby claimed that the administration is unaware of any threats made by the crown prince. The spokesperson also emphasized that classified documents often provide only a snapshot of a particular moment and may present only part of the picture.
Despite the tensions revealed in the document, U.S. officials assert the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, citing Saudi Arabia's economic and political influence and China's attempts to court traditional U.S. allies in the Middle East. The administration of President Joe Biden has made it clear that it aims to collaborate with Saudi Arabia on various issues, including a peace deal in Yemen, a cease-fire in Sudan, counterterrorism efforts and disagreements over oil supply.
The public expressed their disappointment over the improved relationship with Saudi Arabia, especially in light of the many controversies surrounding Salman's de facto rule over the kingdom, including Saudi participation in the conflict in Yemen and the American intelligence community's assessment that he ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The recent visit of Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Saudi Arabia further highlighted the efforts to rebuild the relationship between the two nations. While differences remain regarding Saudi Arabia's nuclear ambitions and human rights record, U.S. officials have engaged with Saudi leaders to maintain collaboration.
Saudi Arabia has been pursuing a more independent foreign policy, distancing itself from the United States. In recent months, the kingdom has restored relations with Iran, invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad back into the Arab League and resolved its regional dispute with Qatar. These changes align with Riyadh's return to a more traditional foreign policy focused on avoiding conflicts and accommodating rivals.
Despite the evolving dynamics, the U.S. still seeks Saudi Arabia's assistance on regional matters, such as a ceasefire in Yemen's civil war, maintaining stability in Sudan, combatting the Islamic State and stabilizing global oil prices. Additionally, the Biden administration places significance on normalizing ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. However, progress is contingent on advancements in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Furthermore, concerns have been raised about Saudi Arabia's growing relationship with China, as the U.S. considers China its top economic and security competitor. A leaked intelligence document from December last year suggested that Saudi Arabia intended to expand its ties with China, including procuring military equipment. However, U.S. officials downplayed the warnings, stating that the anticipated collaboration did not materialize.