Ukraine war has 'deadly' impact on Arab region: Blinken

AFP , Wednesday 30 Mar 2022

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is having a "deadly" impact and threatening security in the Arab world, particularly through spiraling wheat prices, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Algiers Wednesday.

Antony Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a news conference at the US embassy, on March 30, 2022, in the Algerian capital Algiers. AFP

He was speaking on the final leg of a trip that began with an unprecedented summit in an Israeli kibbutz, attended by Blinken and the foreign ministers of Egypt, the Jewish state, and three Arab countries that normalized ties with it in 2020.

Addressing journalists in Algiers, he said that while Russia's invasion of Ukraine seemed distant, it has already had "deadly consequences for citizens in the region".

"It's having a direct impact on their lives right now, particularly with regard to rising food prices... especially wheat," he said.

This poses "grave threats to security" in Arab countries, he added.

North African nations are heavily dependent on wheat imports and Blinken earlier said they were facing "disaster" over the massive shock the war dealt to already tight supplies.

Both Russia and Ukraine are major wheat producers, and Moscow also exports vast amounts of oil and gas.

Blinken said there was "a clear aggressor and a clear victim" in the Ukraine conflict.

"It's important to stand with the victim and to stand for the principles that have also been violated," he said.

Blinken met Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune after holding talks with Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra.

It was his first visit as a top US diplomat to the North African country, a Moscow ally, and a major gas producer that has faced calls to boost exports to Europe after prices soared.

But Blinken made no mention of that subject during a press conference after his meetings on Wednesday.

Soured Ties 

The top US diplomat had flown in on Wednesday morning from Algeria's arch-rival Morocco, which in 2020 normalized ties with Israel under a deal that sparked renewed tensions between Algiers and Rabat over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Relations between Washington and Algiers had also soured as a result of Morocco's normalization deal, brokered under then-president Donald Trump.

As a quid pro quo for normalization, the Trump administration recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a phosphate-rich desert territory where Algeria has long backed the Polisario independence movement.

In Rabat on Tuesday, Blinken had voiced support for a Moroccan autonomy plan for the Western Sahara, which he described as "serious, credible and realistic".

In Algiers on Wednesday, he refrained from mentioning the Moroccan plan, instead of voicing Washington's support for United Nations mediation.

"We're very focused on diplomacy and on advancing a resolution through diplomacy," he said, insisting that there had been "no changes" in Washington's position.

US 'Values' UAE Ties 

Officials in Algeria, a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause, have voiced concerns over Morocco's normalization with Israel, particularly over the possibility their rival could access advanced Israeli military technology.

Blinken on Wednesday re-emphasized that the normalization process was "not a substitute for dealing with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians" and reaching a two-state solution.

Israel was keen to cast its summit, attended by the foreign ministers of Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, as an alliance of powers against its arch-foe Iran.

Bahrain and the UAE were the other countries to strike normalisation deals with Israel in the last months of the Trump administration.

Israel is fighting a regional shadow war against Iran and accuses it of seeking a nuclear bomb, something Tehran denies.

The summit in Israel came after the UAE has come under cross-border missile and drone attacks from Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Blinken said Wednesday that during talks with the UAE's de facto ruler -- Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed -- the day before he had expressed his support.

"One of the things I made very clear to him is the value that we attach to that partnership," he said.

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