United States secretary of state, Antony Blinken, arrived in Riyadh on Tuesday to restore strategic co-operation between Washington and the Saudi capital at a time the kingdom has recalibrated its regional and international relations. During his three-day visit, he will discuss with senior Saudi officials a durable ceasefire in the Sudanese civil conflict and an end to the Yemen conflict.
Joint efforts on these issues could help repair frayed United States’ ties with Saudi Arabia.
Relations soured after president Joe Biden branded Saudi Arabia a pariah and US intelligence agencies held crown prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the 2018 murder in Istanbul of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
When Mr Biden took office, he telephoned King Salman but shunned the crown prince, who is prime minister and de facto ruler.
Mr Biden failed to reconcile with him when he visited Saudi Arabia last summer and national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, did not achieve this objective when he met the prince last month.
In advance of his mission, Mr Blinken reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to the two-state solution for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and opposition to Israeli settlement activity on land Palestinians claim for their state. He also told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, that he would urge Saudi Arabia to normalise relations with Israel.
These messages are likely to fall on deaf ears in Riyadh as the administration has done nothing to restart two-state solution negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis or curb settlement activity and the Saudis have repeatedly stated normalisation would only follow the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Instead of considering the administration’s proposal for a regional Nato-type alliance, Saudi Arabia has aligned with the China-founded Shanghai Co-operation Organisation and the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) grouping. Despite US calls for an increase in oil supplies, the Saudis have cut oil exports by one million barrels a day to prop up the price of crude.
On Monday, the king and crown prince welcomed US foe Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro. Last month at Saudi Arabia’s invitation, US antagonist, Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, attended the Arab summit in Jeddah after Syria’s 12-year Arab League suspension was lifted.
Mr Blinken’s arrival coincided with the reopening of the Iranian embassy in Riyadh.
Iranian-Saudi relations were cut in 2016 after Iranian protesters sacked the kingdom’s embassy in Tehran in response to the Saudi execution of dissident Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr. In March, China mediated the restoration of relations.
Today, Mr Blinken will attend a meeting of the Gulf Co-operation Council and tomorrow, he and his Saudi counterpart, Faisal Bin Farhan, will co-host a gathering of the Global Coalition to Defeat Isis.