Blinken and Saudi Crown Prince discuss stabilising relations and human rights

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has met with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an effort to strengthen relations between the two countries after years of increasing disagreements on various issues, including human rights, Iran, regional security, and oil prices. The talks took place during Blinken’s diplomatic mission to the oil-rich kingdom.

Following the meeting, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller stated that the two parties committed to “advance stability, security, and prosperity across the Middle East and beyond.” This commitment included working towards achieving peace in Yemen. Blinken also highlighted the importance of progress on human rights in strengthening bilateral relations and expressed gratitude to Saudi Arabia for its support during the recent evacuation of US citizens from war-torn Sudan.

Blinken’s visit comes shortly after Saudi Arabia pledged to further reduce oil production, a move that could add tension to the relationship between Washington and Riyadh. The US has clashed with Saudi Arabia on numerous occasions regarding oil supply, cooperation with Russia in OPEC+, and the recent detente with Iran mediated by China. Analysts suggest that Blinken’s trip aims to regain influence with Riyadh over oil prices, counter Chinese and Russian influence in the region, and encourage hopes for an eventual normalisation of Saudi Arabian-Israeli ties.

Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Washington, DC-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that discouraging a closer Saudi Arabian-Chinese relationship is likely the most important element of Blinken’s visit.

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“[Blinken should explain] why Chinese interests do not align with Saudi Arabia and why closer relations in a strategic way inhibit closer relations with Washington,” Goldberg said.

US-Saudi relations began on a shaky note in 2019 when Joe Biden, during his presidential campaign, stated he would treat Riyadh like “the pariah that they are” if elected. Upon taking office in 2021, Biden released a US intelligence assessment indicating that the Crown Prince approved the operation to capture and kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Biden’s visit to the kingdom in July 2022 did little to ease tensions, and Riyadh has shown less interest in aligning with US priorities in the region.

However, Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, DC, said that relations between Washington and Riyadh are improving.

“It looks more strained – and in some superficial ways it is – but it is overall stronger,” Ibish said.
“Under the hood, especially when it comes to security and a few other matters like that, the relationship is stronger than it was a year ago.”

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With a Bachelor's Degree in English, Jenn has plenty of experience writing and editing on different topics. After spending many years teaching English in Thailand, Jenn has come to love writing about Thai culture and the experience of being an ex-pat in Thailand. During long holidays, she travels to North of Thailand just to have Khao Soi!

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