Sometimes, it’s a good idea to reach out to your enemies. But don’t ever take old friends for granted.  

I learned that lesson on the streets and schoolyards of Brooklyn and Queens. When I served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I found that this principle also applies to world powers, especially in the turbulent Middle East, where nations need allies who will stick with them when the times get tough.  


Of course, friends support each other in times of tragedy, such as the deaths of more than 700 participants on the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, for which Americans offer our prayerful condolences. Friendly nations also support each other when their security is threatened, as occurs all too often in the Middle East.   American policymakers should remember this rule. The United States has made a major shift in its approach to Iran, our sworn enemy since 1980. That means we need to reassure our regional partners, like Saudi Arabia, our friend for more than 70 years.  

This isn’t only about soothing the Saudis; it’s about advancing American interests. Saudi Arabia has long been a leading strategic partner in the Middle East, and its interests still align with the U.S. and our friends in the area, including Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the UAE. Now that Saudi Arabia is undergoing far-reaching changes, the U.S. must not be a bystander, and Congress can play a crucial role.

While the Saudi's clearly can pay for their own defense, Congress should swiftly approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia and be a vocal supporter of the Kingdom's fight against terrorism.  Congress can also help shape U.S. policy by holding frequent hearings on developments in the region focusing America's attention on why this fight is important.  Lastly, Congress can remind to the Saudis that, while Americans want to defeat terrorism, we remain deeply concerned about human rights and religious liberty.

For the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, the question isn’t whether the nuclear agreement with Iran will go forward – it is. The challenge is whether the U.S. can address Saudi Arabia’s understandable concerns, so that we will not fracture a longstanding partnership while pursing peace with a leading adversary. As a stable Sunni power, Saudi Arabia is apprehensive about the growing sway of the self-styled “revolutionary” Shiite Iran in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and, now, Yemen, which shares a 1,100-mile border with Saudi Arabia. With the lifting of sanctions, Iran will have more resources to support of terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, a threat to our Israeli friends, and the Houthis in Yemen, whom the Saudis are battling with American support.

Saudi Arabia’s concerns can best be resolved by reinforcing our cooperation on regional security and counter-terrorism. Demonstrating our shared determination to secure the Persian Gulf and its energy supplies, U.S. and Saudi armed forces regularly participate in joint exercises, and the US is strengthening Saudi border and coastal defenses. Committed to regional as well as national security, Saudi Arabia is a leader in the Gulf Cooperation Council, consisting of Arab states in the Persian Gulf. As Saudi Arabia builds its defenses, it is the world’s largest customer of U.S. military equipment, with current accounts totaling $97 billion. 

This partnership serves U.S. economic as well as security interests. The U.S. exports more than $25 billion a year in goods and services to Saudi Arabia, including vehicles, machinery, aircraft, electrical equipment and optical and medical instruments. As Saudi Arabia diversifies its economy, American companies can get in on the ground floor of a growing marketplace.

After the deaths of King Abdullah in January and Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal in July, the new King Salman bin Abdulaziz, at age 79, is empowering a new generation of leaders, including the fast-moving modernizer, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.  

These younger Saudi leaders are championing new initiatives, from a more assertive stance in the international arena to a more rapid diversification of their economy. Partly in response to the U.S.-Iran agreement, some are exploring economic and security links with American rivals such as Russia and China. But the new leaders are also reaching out to the U.S. – and we should reach back.  

Now is the time for the U.S. to develop new ties to those who will build a new Saudi Arabia. With two-thirds of all Saudis under the age of 30 and hundreds of thousands attending US colleges and universities on Saudi government scholarships, Saudi Arabia is likely to look forward and outward in the years ahead. 

By engaging with the emerging Saudi Araba, the U.S. can promote more progressive policies on the issues of women’s rights, individual liberties and religious tolerance that have been flash-points in the past. Indeed, while serving in Congress, I worked with a Saudi diplomat who now serves as Foreign Minister to modify the extreme hostility towards Jews in the kingdom’s textbooks.  

As Saudi Arabia adapts to a changing world, the U.S. should renew its relationship with a changing Saudi Arabia. We will find a partner prepared to work with us to build a more secure, stable and prosperous Middle East. 

Ackerman served in the House from 1983 to 2013.