Blinken meets Saudi Crown Prince to bolster ties

Ahram Online , AFP , Wednesday 7 Jun 2023

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Tuesday the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, in a trip aimed at boosting ties with the long-time ally, which has forged closer relations with Washington's rivals.

Saudi Arabia s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, June 7, 2023. AP


Saudi state news agency “SPA” said: “During the meeting, both sides discussed the bilateral relations between the two friendly countries, aspects of cooperation in various fields and ways to enhance it, in addition to discussing developments in the regional and international situation and the efforts exerted in this regard”.

Bin Salman and Blinken vowed to work together to advance stability, security, and prosperity across the Middle East and beyond, the State Department said late Tuesday.

Blinken's three-day visit to the oil-rich kingdom focuses on efforts to end conflicts in Sudan and Yemen, the joint battle against the Islamic State group (IS) and the Arab world's relations with Israel, according to US officials.

The state secretary and Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan will co-host a ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh “to address the continuing threat of (Daesh) and reaffirm our commitment to ensure its enduring defeat,” according to State Department Spokesman Matt Miller.

“The two affirmed their shared commitment to advance stability, security, and prosperity across the Middle East and beyond, including through a comprehensive political agreement to achieve peace, prosperity, and security in Yemen,” Miller said.

Blinken is set to meet with other Saudi officials on Wednesday before taking part in a US-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting. 

His trip comes at a time of quickly shifting alliances in the Middle East, centered around a China-brokered rapprochement in March between regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The United States offered cautious support for the deal that was sealed in China, the rising power making inroads in the Middle East.

Iran, the arch-enemy of the United States and Israel for decades, reopened its embassy in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday following a seven-year hiatus.

Another landmark change saw Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad invited back to the Arab League last month for the first time since the start of the 12-year civil war in which his government has been backed by Russia and Iran.

Energy prices

US-Saudi relations, centered for decades on energy and defense, were badly strained by the 2018 murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Washington was also upset when Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, refused to help bring down skyrocketing energy prices after Russia's attack on Ukraine in February last year.

Blinken's trip, his second to Saudi Arabia since becoming America's top diplomat, comes after the kingdom under Prince Mohammed has been more willing to disregard the U.S. in striking its own decisions. Riyadh has clashed repeatedly with President Joe Biden on its supply of crude oil to global markets, its willingness to partner with Russia in OPEC+ .

With oil prices well below $100 a barrel, the Biden administration doesn’t have an immediate concern over prices at the pump in the summer driving season.

Israel relations

Still, US-Saudi strategic relations remain close, especially on defense: Washington has long provided the Riyadh security protection from Iran, and Riyadh buys cutting-edge US weaponry.

The United States also hopes that Riyadh will eventually agree to normalize relations with Israel, which has already built ties with several other Arab countries under the Abraham Accords brokered by the Donald Trump administration.

On the eve of his Saudi trip, Blinken reiterated that "the United States has a real national security interest in promoting normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia".

However, he said Washington has "no illusions" that this can be done quickly or easily, but stressed that "we remain committed to working toward that outcome".

Saudi Arabia, on its part, has consistently maintained that any progress towards normalization with Israel hinges on the recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

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