Blinken Visits Saudi Arabia:
- On June 6, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, for the second time since assuming his position in 2021.
- Blinken met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
- The two parties evaluated economic cooperation on clean energy. The Saudis have expended billions in an effort to diversify their energy sector and reduce their dependence on oil markets.
- They also discussed the potential for Saudi-Israeli normalization, recent instability in Sudan, human rights violations, nuclear programs, and the ongoing war in Yemen.
- Speaking after the nearly two-hour meeting, Blinken stated that he was under “no illusions” that reaching peace with Israel would be a speedy process.
- Saudi Arabia has reportedly made peace with Israel contingent on its receiving U.S. support to develop a nuclear energy program. Yet the kingdom has not agreed to U.S. restrictions that would prevent it from branching into the development of nuclear weapons.
- U.S. President Biden previously vowed to make Saudi Arabia an international “pariah” in light of human rights concerns, and human rights advocates have suggested that Blinken “tiptoed” around the topic during this visit.
- In a joint press conference with MBS, Blinken stated that it is in Saudi Arabia’s interest to expand human rights.
Joint Statement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC):
- While in Riyadh, Blinken also met with GCC Secretary General Jasem Albudaiwi and the foreign ministers of GCC member states.
- At the conclusion of the ministerial meeting, the U.S. Department of State released a statement in partnership with the GCC which underscored the United States’ “enduring commitment” to the region.
- The statement affirms support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in line with 1967 borders and the Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The statement did not mention Arab normalization with Israel.
- It also expressed support for strengthening Saudi-Iranian ties, as the two countries resumed diplomatic relations in March after seven years.
- The statement discouraged violent threats against “territorial integrity,” yet did not explicitly reference the Russia-Ukraine War.
Background on U.S.-Gulf Relations:
- As Chinese and Russian influence in the Middle East grows, analysts suspect that the U.S. will reinvigorate its partnerships with key regional allies, including Saudi Arabia.
- China mediated Saudi-Iranian normalization talks in March and has enhanced its relationship with Israel via technology sales.
- Analysts view Blinken’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia as an effort to mend recent tensions regarding crude oil production quotas.
- Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter, has reduced production quotas in an effort to increase prices and profit. Meanwhile, the U.S. has released barrels from its strategic reserves and pressured the Saudis to increase quotas as it tried to keep prices down at the pump.
- Gulf states have played a role in mediating prisoner swaps between Russia and its western rivals, such as the US. Saudi Arabia, for instance, played a central role in negotiating the December 2022 release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian penal colony.
- Analysts state that this strategy is indicative of the Gulf’s relationship balancing between competing foreign allies.