Blinken’s Failed Saudi Visit

Abdul Rahman, Consortium News, June 12, 2023 —

Developments during Secretary of State Blinken’s visit to Saudi Arabia fit with growing speculations about the Gulf Cooperation Council becoming more autonomous of the U.S., writes Abdul Rahman.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded his three-day visit to Saudi Arabia last Thursday. He was the second top U.S. official to visit the kingdom in less than a month, after National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

His visit was widely seen as a desperate attempt by the Joe Biden administration to hold on to its “closest ally” in the West Asian region.

Before Blinken started his tour, he had stated that normalization of Saudi-Israel relations was one of the top priorities of his government.

However, reports indicate that Blinken not only failed to get any assurance from the Saudis on that front, but had to concede some crucial ground on significant regional issues.

During his tour, Blinken met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on June 6, attended a Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers’ meet in Riyadh on June 7 and a meeting of a so-called Global Coalition to defeat ISIS on June 8.

AIPAC Speech Hours Before Departure

Hours before he traveled to Saudi Arabia, Blinken addressed a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group in the U.S., claiming that the Biden administration “has a real national security interest in promoting normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

He also noted that there are no real prospects of a two-state solution in the near future and that his government will not push for it.

A few days later, on June 8, before leaving Saudi Arabia, Blinken addressed a press conference in Riyadh jointly with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, where he reiterated his government’s resolve to work for Israel-Saudi normalization.

However, Blinken was contradicted by Faisal bin Farhan who pointed out that “normalization of ties with Israel will have limited benefit without a pathway to peace for the Palestinians.”

Blinken with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan at a press conference in Riyadh on June 7. (State Department/Hisham Mousa)

Earlier, Blinken ended up committing to work for the resolution of the conflict in Palestine and the creation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders in a joint statement issued a day after his meeting with the GCC foreign ministers.

The statement, without naming Israel, underlined “the need to refrain from all unilateral measures that undermine a two-state solution and escalate tensions, to preserve the historic status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites.”

Two of the GCC members, Bahrain and the U.A.E., have already “normalized” their relations with Israel under the so-called Abraham Accords mediated by the U.S.

The statement indicated that the U.S. may have conceded crucial geopolitical ground on other issues as well. For example, while it raised the issue of “freedom of navigation and maritime security in the region,” hinting at alleged Iranian threats, it welcomed the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia in a reversal of the U.S. earlier cautious tone.

Supporting Peace in Yemen 

Blinken with Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah on June 7. (State Department/ Zinna Senbetta)

The statement also supported the ongoing peace efforts in Yemen and expressed the need for an inclusive intra-Yemeni political process. This is despite the fact that the Biden administration has maintained that the Houthis are Iranian allies and the war in Yemen is a proxy war.

Successive U.S. governments since Barack Obama have provided billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners to be used against the civilian population in Yemen.

In another significant development, the U.S. seems to have toned down its objections to Arab countries’ normalizing their relations with Syria. The joint statement expressed support for the Arab countries’ “efforts to resolve the [Syrian] crisis in a step-for-step manner.”

The statement reiterated that peace in the country should be on the basis of U.N. Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and expressed commitments to Syria’s unity and sovereignty.

This is despite some GCC countries, such as Qatar and Kuwait — close allies of the U.S.  — expressing their dissent at the normalization with Syria. The U.S. had earlier stated that the U.S. does not “support normalization with Damascus” or “others normalizing this.”

The outcome of Blinken’s visit to Saudi Arabia is similar to the outcome of President Joe Biden’s visit to the Kingdom last year when he failed to convince MBS to increase oil production to ease global prices. It fits into growing speculations about the GCC becoming more autonomous and no longer toeing the U.S. line.


Abdul Rahman is a correspondent for Peoples Dispatch.

This article is from Peoples Dispatch.  

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