US President Barack Obama will visit Saudi Arabia in March to try to mend relations with a Washington ally increasingly mistrustful of US policy in the Middle East, after the recent rapprochement between the US and Iran and Obama’s see-saw policies regarding Egypt and Syria. The planned visit, which has now been confirmed by the White House, will serve to reassure the oil-rich kingdom that the special relationship dating back to 1943 still matters even as US reliance on imported crude oil wanes.

The economic relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia has not been impacted by the recent cooling in diplomatic relations and Saudi oil exports to the US market have remained constant in the last two years, even as indigenous US oil production, of mainly light sweet crude oil, has risen at historic high rates. This means that Saudi crude as a proportion of total US imports, after falling in the second half of the last decade, has actually risen strongly in recent years, hitting 17% last year according to US Energy Information Agency data (see graph). The US imported an average 1.3mn b/d of Saudi crude for the first 11 months of 2013, almost unchanged from 2012. (CONTINUED - 1368 WORDS)