Saudi Arabia has several gripes against the United States, most involving Israel, but nothing serious enough for the Saudis to contemplate breaking off ties.
When it comes to the issue of Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, the two nations are at loggerheads. The Saudis echo Jordan's King Hussein in saying US policy in the Mideast is biased and does not reflect stated American principles.
In an interview, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, couched his nation's criticism of the US in language considered fairly blunt in the kingdom, although it was much milder than that used by King Hussein last March.
Prince Saud said the kingdom does not judge American reliability as an ally on the basis of the events in Lebanon, where the US failed. Instead, American credibility depends on ''policies in the United States toward Israel which either can make Israel continue to be obstinate . . . regarding the Palestinian problem, continue to build settlements in occupied territories, continue to disregard conditions of (United Nations Resolution) 242, or it on the other hand could influence Israel to go forward in these issues.''
Resolution 242 calls for Israel to return territories it acquired during the 1967 war - namely the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip - in exchange for a negotiated peace. Both Israel and the US endorsed the resolution.
''If you are looking at changes in the Arab positions on this, there will not be, because we have reached the limit of what the Arab countries can do to identify the basis for peace, to identify their objectives and the mechanisms they suggest for this peace,'' the foreign minister said.
US officials in Washington and the Gulf say they expect President Reagan to push his 1982 Middle East peace plan again if he is reelected. Reagan called for the formation of a Palestinian ''entity'' on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in confederation with Jordan. The Arabs never formally accepted Reagan's plan and proposed one of their own based on ideas outlined by Saudi King Fahd. Reagan stuck to his plan.
''There must be some change in Israel, and I am afraid this change in Israel will not happen unless there is a change of policy in the United States toward Israel,'' the prince said.
''We must believe, we do believe in Saudi Arabia, that the principles enunciated by the United States toward settling the Palestinian problems are ones they believe in,'' he said, citing Resolution 242 again.
However, he pointed out that if the Americans at the same time accept Israel's policies on the West Bank and Gaza and do not consider the settlements illegal, then ''of course, they would not be following the principles.''
US officials tell the Saudis that American public opinion will not allow the US to be tough on Israel, he said.
The American public ''has become aware that Israel is not the little David that projected itself to American public opinion, but it is the Goliath that occupies countries, that can bomb nuclear plants in Iraq, that can threaten Pakistan and say that their security extends from the Indus River to the Atlantic Ocean,'' the prince continued. ''We don't want the US to take our position, but to be just and unbiased in its view toward the situation.''
Prince Saud called on the US to limit its aid to Israel, while ensuring Israel's security so that Resolution 242 can be put into practice.
The Saudis also say the US is inconsistent and biased when it comes to selling arms to Saudi Arabia. They do not see the logic behind the US pointing out how vital Saudi oil is and then refusing to sell the kingdom arms to defend the oil.
''We have requirements, justifiable requirements, we have threats on security ,'' the prince said.
''If they (the Americans) believe we have security requirements and at the same time go and say no, (we) will not help you to meet the security requirement , then you (the US) are proving that you are unreliable in the situation.''
Diplomats said the Saudis were talking to French, British, and Spanish suppliers about arms. The Saudis signed a deal, worth $4.5 billion, for antiaircraft missiles with France in January, after considering buying similar missiles from the US.
''Our security needs are there. If we cannot get them from the United States, we have to look elsewhere,'' Prince Saud explained.
President Reagan recently dropped a proposal to sell the kingdom 1,400 Stinger missiles because he anticipated that Congress would turn down the sale.
''It is always very strange for us to hear constant talk that weapons are going to Saudi Arabia to threaten the security of Israel. How about weapons that are going to Israel? Don't they threaten the security of Saudi Arabia?''
The test of American dedication to resolve the Mideast problem peacefully, the prince said, is the Tel Aviv embassy issue. The US is thinking of moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Saud said his nation would sever diplomatic ties with the US if the embassy were moved to Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, diplomats in Saudi Arabia said understanding between top officials of the two countries was quite good. Saud made clear his desire to have close ties to the US.
However, diplomats note that such understanding was not shared by the Saudi press, lower-ranking government officials, or the populace, who are growing increasingly irritated with what they see as American bias toward Israel.
''Saudis are not anti-American, but it is hard to find one Saudi who likes American Middle East policy,'' a diplomat in the Saudi capital commented.