Biden effect: Riyadh makes up with rivals

Under a new U.S. glare, Saudi Arabia is rushing to release some political prisoners and make up with regional rivals, attempting to clean up its act as it braces for a policy reset in Washington.

U.S. President Joe Biden pledged during his campaign to make the kingdom a “pariah” after it got a free pass under Donald Trump, but observers say he is instead adopting a middle path.

While scrutinising human rights, his new administration is expected to work to preserve a valuable security partnership while it moves to reboot nuclear talks with Riyadh’s arch-enemy Tehran.

Saudi Arabia has provisionally freed some political prisoners — including activist Loujain al-Hathloul, famed for her campaign to end the ban on women driving — in what many see as a nod to Mr. Biden.

Saudi Arabia also led its allies last month to end a bitter three-year dispute with neighbouring Qatar, partly at the urging of the U.S. which wants them to present a united front against Iran.

The kingdom is also keen for detente with America’s NATO ally Turkey, following a public boycott of Turkish goods last year as their rivalry intensified in the wake of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s 2018 murder in Istanbul.

To manage ties with Washington, Saudi Arabia is on a hiring spree for lobbyists.

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