Al-Jazeera / June 2, 2023
The trip next week will be the top US diplomat’s first to the kingdom since the Iranian-Saudi normalization deal.
Washington, DC – 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 in a deal brokered by Beijing.
The Department of State said on Friday that the top United States diplomat will meet with Saudi officials and attend Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) 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 said in a statement.
He is also set to co-host a meeting for the global coalition against ISIL (ISIS) to “address the continuing threat of ISIS and reaffirm our commitment to ensure its enduring defeat”, the department added.
US officials have repeatedly asserted their commitment to the alliance with Saudi Arabia and to the kingdom’s security. Since Riyadh’s normalization 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 destabilizing 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 normalization,” Leaf said.
The two countries had in fact agreed to a full normalization of relations and resumption of diplomatic ties.
Leaf also downplayed China’s role in securing the deal. “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,” she said.
Leaf added that the deal was primarily focused on Yemen, as the Saudis push for wider calm in the region to “pursue their socioeconomic modernization 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 program.
Despite the Tehran-Riyadh deal, US officials say they are continuing to push for normalization 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 normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a speech last month.
Blinken excludes Israel from Middle East trip
Middle East Monitor / June 3, 2023
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has excluded Israel from a planned visit to the Middle East, an Israeli political source revealed, noting this could relate to Iran’s nuclear issue.
“Blinken will travel to Saudi Arabia 6-8 June to 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,” a US State Department press release disclosed.
“On 7 June, the Secretary will also participate in a US-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Ministerial to discuss the growing cooperation with our GCC partners to promote security, stability, de-escalation, regional integration and economic opportunities across the Middle East,” the press release added.
It continued: “On 8 June, the Secretary will co-host a Ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan in Riyadh to highlight the critical role played by the D-ISIS Coalition to address the continuing threat of ISIS (Daesh) and reaffirm our commitment to ensure its enduring defeat.”
Visiting Israel was part of the agenda of Blinken’s trip to the Middle East, but The Times of Israel reported an Israeli official saying the US State Department: “Moved away from the idea [of visiting Israel] shortly after realizing there was not enough time in his schedule.”
The Jerusalem Post reported a senior Israeli official indicating: “It is impossible to ignore the timing for cancelling Blinken’s visit.”
He added: “It could be merely technical as Washington is trying to exclude Iran’s nuclear file from its agenda until after the elections. The US administration recognized that solving Iran’s nuclear issue could not happen without military action in Iran.”