Blinken meets with MbS in Jeddah, Saudi-Israel normalization on agenda

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, a State Department spokesperson has confirmed, the latest step toward “rapprochement between the Biden administration and Saudi’s de facto leader.”

The two men “affirmed their shared commitment to advance stability, security, and prosperity across the Middle East and beyond” during the meeting, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement Tuesday.

Miller stated that commitment includes “a comprehensive political agreement to achieve peace, prosperity, and security in Yemen,” adding that Blinken “emphasized that our bilateral relationship is strengthened by progress on human rights.”

Relations between the two countries have been strained in recent years following the torture and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, for which a US intelligence report held the Crown Prince responsible. But in the wake of fluctuating oil prices over the past year – Saudi Arabia this week said it will slash oil output starting in July as part of an effort by producers to shore up crude prices – the Joe Biden administration has sought to reengage with the kingdom.

During the meeting, Blinken and bin Salman “discussed deepening economic cooperation, especially in the clean energy and technology fields,” Miller said in the statement.

Blinken also thanked the Crown Prince “for Saudi Arabia’s support evacuating hundreds of U.S. citizens from Sudan, and for the Kingdom’s ongoing partnership in diplomatic negotiations to stop the fighting there,” the statement added.

The meeting lasted an hour and 40 minutes, a US official told the traveling press, during which they also touched on the potential for normalization of relations with Israel and agreed to continued dialogue on the issue.

A State Department’s travel summary said Blinken would “meet with Saudi officials to discuss US-Saudi strategic cooperation on regional and global issues and a range of bilateral issues including economic and security cooperation,” and participate in meetings of the US-Persian Gulf Cooperation Council and the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh.

Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday afternoon, and will travel to Riyadh on Wednesday for further meetings.

Speaking to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC on Monday, Blinken stated that normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia would be a topic of conversation during his trip.

The production cut announced by Saudi Arabia over the weekend was its biggest in years and will depress its output to 9 million barrels per day. It came after a meeting in Vienna of the alliance known as OPEC+, which includes members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russia and other smaller producers.

Asked to comment on the decision to slash production ahead of Blinken’s visit, deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel noted that gasoline prices have generally fallen in the US from heights reached a year ago.

“We believe that supply should meet demand, and we’ll continue to work with all producers and consumers to ensure that energy markets support economic growth and lower prices for American families,” Patel said at a briefing, adding, “That’s what we’re focusing on.”

On the campaign trail, then-candidate Joe Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia “the pariah that they are” on the world stage and “make them pay the price” for Khashoggi’s murder. But he reneged on that vow by visiting the country last year and giving the crown prince a fist bump, providing a photo opportunity for the Saudi government and outraging human rights groups.

At the time, the president defended his actions by saying his Saudi trip was critical to US security.

“As president, it is my job to keep our country strong and secure. We have to counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world,” Biden wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

“To do these things, we have to engage directly with countries that can impact those outcomes,” he wrote.

Months after Biden’s visit, the US determined that bin Salman should be granted immunity in a case brought against him by Khashoggi’s fiancée.

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