May 22, 2024

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Saudi Crown Prince Blinken held ‘frank’ talks in Jeddah – US official

Saudi Crown Prince Blinken held ‘frank’ talks in Jeddah – US official

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had an “open and candid” conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the early hours of Wednesday morning on a wide range of bilateral issues, a US official said. .

The top US diplomat arrived in Saudi Arabia late Tuesday for a highly anticipated visit amid strained relations over deepening differences over everything from Iran policy to issues of regional security, oil prices and human rights.

Washington has struggled to consolidate the relationship with Riyadh, as de facto ruler Prince Mohammed controlled decision-making, and as the traditional oil-for-security alliance collapsed in light of the emergence of the United States as a major oil producer.

Blinken’s visit comes days after top crude exporter Saudi Arabia pledged to deepen oil production cuts on top of a broader OPEC+ agreement to limit supply, as it seeks to boost falling oil prices despite opposition from the US administration.

A US official said Blinken and the crown prince, known as Mohammed bin Salman, met for an hour and 40 minutes, covering topics including Israel, the conflict in Yemen and unrest in Sudan as well as human rights.

“There has been a good degree of convergence on potential initiatives where we share the same interests, while also acknowledging where we have differences,” the US official said.

Much of the discussion was expected to be dominated by the possible normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, though officials played down the possibility of any immediate or major progress on the issue.

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“They discussed the possibility of normalizing relations with Israel and agreed to continue dialogue on this issue,” the US official said.

In a speech in Washington on Monday before leaving for Jeddah, Blinken warned that any breakthrough on the issue would not be immediate. “We have no illusions that this can be done quickly or easily,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, a Middle Eastern powerhouse and home to Islam’s two holiest shrines, has given its blessing to its Gulf neighbors, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, for establishing relations with Israel in 2020 under the former US administration of Donald Trump.

Riyadh did not follow suit, saying that the goals of establishing a Palestinian state must be addressed first. In April, Saudi Arabia restored ties with Iran, its regional rival and archenemy of Israel.

nuclear technology

A source familiar with the discussions said that developing a civilian nuclear program is among Riyadh’s conditions for normalizing relations with Israel, confirming a March New York Times report. Neither Saudi nor American officials have publicly confirmed this.

However, US officials have said in the past that they will only share nuclear power technology if the agreement precludes enrichment of uranium or reprocessing of plutonium made in reactors – two ways to make nuclear weapons.

Riyadh has also benefited from its growing relationship with China as Washington backtracked on some of its demands, including lifting restrictions on arms sales and assistance in sensitive high-tech industries.

Two days after Blinken’s visit, Riyadh will host a major Arab-Chinese investment conference.

China will help the Saudis in sectors the United States will not, but the relationship between Riyadh and Beijing has not been as deep as with Washington, said Jonathan Fulton, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

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“At this point, I still describe the US-Saudi relationship as strategic and the Sino-Saudi relationship as transactional,” Fulton said.

In brief remarks before a meeting of the GCC foreign ministers, Blinken sought to reassure them of Washington’s focus in the region.

“The United States is in this region to stay and we are deeply invested in partnering with all of you,” he said.

Mohammed bin Salman and Blinken also discussed Yemen and potential ways to resolve the remaining issues, while Blinken thanked the crown prince for the kingdom’s role in pushing for a cease-fire in Sudan and helping with the evacuation of American citizens.

The US official said Blinken also raised human rights issues with Mohammed bin Salman, both on a broad level and with regard to specific issues, although the cases were not specified.

The kingdom is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into transforming and opening up its economy to reduce dependence on crude oil. The reforms were accompanied by a wide range of arrests of critics of Mohammed bin Salman, as well as businessmen, clerics and human rights activists.

Most recently in March, Saudi authorities released a US citizen who was sentenced to 19 years in prison for posting criticism of the government on Twitter, but remains under a travel ban.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Aziz El-Yaqoubi, and Maha El-Dahan). Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Mark Potter and Emilia Sithole Mataris

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Humera Pamuk

Thomson Reuters

Hamira Pamuk is a senior foreign policy correspondent based in Washington, DC. She covers the US State Department, and travels regularly with the US Secretary of State. In her 20 years with Reuters, she has had posts in London, Dubai, Cairo and Turkey, covering everything from the Arab Spring and the civil war in Syria to several Turkish elections and the Kurdish insurgency in the Southeast. In 2017, she won the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship Program at Columbia University School of Journalism. She holds a BA in International Relations and an MA in European Union Studies.

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