Friday, June 21, 2024

Top US diplomat Blinken due in Saudi Arabia within days

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia next week, his first trip to the kingdom since Tehran and Riyadh agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations.

The Department of State said on Friday that the top United States diplomat will meet with Saudi officials and attend Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) talks during his visit, starting on June 6.

Blinken will “discuss US-Saudi strategic cooperation on regional and global issues and a range of bilateral issues including economic and security cooperation”, the State Department added.

He is also set to co-host a meeting for the global coalition against Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) to “address the continuing threat of ISIS and reaffirm our commitment to ensure its enduring defeat”, the department noted.

US officials have repeatedly asserted their commitment to the alliance with Saudi Arabia and to the kingdom’s security. Since Riyadh’s normalisation agreement with Tehran, they have also cautiously welcomed the rapprochement.

“From our perspective, anything that can help reduce tensions, avoid conflict and curb in any way dangerous or destabilising actions by Iran is a good thing,” Blinken said in March after the deal was announced.

More recently, Saudi Arabia and the US have been cooperating in Sudan, where they have pushed for a ceasefire between the African country’s warring sides.

Friday’s statement announcing Blinken’s visit did not mention Yemen, where Washington says it has advocated for an end to the years-long conflict pitting Saudi Arabia and its partners against the country’s Houthi rebels, who are allied with Iran.

Saudi Arabia and the Houthis engaged in direct talks in April, which led to a prisoner swap deal, after the kingdom’s agreement with Iran.

Earlier this week, Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told US senators during a briefing that the Iranian-Saudi deal is merely a “detente”.

“It’s not a reconciliation, a big rapprochement or a full normalisation,” Leaf stated.

The two countries had in fact agreed to a full normalisation of relations and resumption of diplomatic ties.

Leaf also downplayed China’s role in securing the deal, noting, “This agreement — I would stipulate — was not brokered by the Chinese; they hosted it. The Iranians and the Saudis did all of the agreements and discussions themselves.”

Leaf added that the deal was primarily focused on Yemen, as the Saudis push for wider calm in the region to “pursue their socioeconomic modernisation project”.

At a time when ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran are warming, tensions have spiked between Tehran and Washington. Diplomacy has stalled between the two countries, as Iran pushes forward with its nuclear programme.

Despite the Tehran-Riyadh deal, US officials say they are continuing to push for normalisation between the kingdom and Israel.

“We’ve unlocked Saudi and Omani airspace for civilian flights to and from Israel and Asia — one step along the road toward what we hope will become a full normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan stated in a speech last month.

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