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Blinken calls Saudi FM hours after Arab foreign minister summit in Israel

State Department says Iran nuclear program, Yemen discussed; kingdom’s state media says US secretary of state spoke with Prince Faisal on regional security cooperation

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud speak to reporters at the State Department in Washington, Oct. 14, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud speak to reporters at the State Department in Washington, Oct. 14, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)

Hours after attending a summit in Israel with foreign ministers from four Arab states on Monday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called another foreign minister, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

During the call, Blinken and Faisal “discussed the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program and building strong international support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity while holding President Putin accountable for his unprovoked and unlawful war,” the statement said in a readout of the call.

Blinken also condemned the recent Houthi terror attack on Saudi Arabia and discussed a UN proposal for a Ramadan truce in Yemen, as well as broader efforts to reach a comprehensive peace in the conflict.

“The Secretary reiterated the US commitment to bolstering Saudi Arabia’s defenses against threats in the region and emphasized the importance of protecting civilians in Yemen,” the State Department said.

According to the official Saudi Press Agency, the two men discussed strategic relations and ways to enhance them in the interest of both countries.

They also exchanged views on relevant regional and international issues, including boosting security and stability in the Middle East and the efforts by both countries toward building peace in the area, the report said.

Earlier in the day, the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates and Blinken wrapped up the Negev Summit, a gathering in the southern Israeli town of Sde Boker.

It brought together the three Arab countries that signed the US-brokered normalization agreements with Israel known as the Abraham Accords in 2020, along with Egypt, which was the first country to sign a peace agreement with Israel in 1979. Jordan, the second Arab country to sign a peace agreement with the Jewish state, declined an invitation to participate.

The unprecedented gathering was widely seen as an attempt by Israel and its Arab allies to create a front against shared regional foe Iran. Israeli officials told reporters at the scene that the talks centered around creating a “regional security architecture,” among other issues.

Though Saudi Arabia did not publicly take part in the conference — Riyadh has clandestine ties with Jerusalem, but not open relations — it was strongly involved behind the scenes, as the subjects on the agenda also represent the kingdom’s interests, according to a Saturday report by Channel 13.

After meeting for the Negev Summit, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, left, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, and United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, talk while posing for a photograph Monday, March 28, 2022, in Sde Boker, Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

The discussions Monday morning at the summit dealt directly with the security challenges facing the countries gathered at Sde Boker, senior Foreign Ministry official Oded Yosef told reporters.

Those challenges include those posed by Iran and its armed proxies, he said.

“It was a very open, honest conversation about real problems, and how we deal with them together,” he continued.

The “regional security architecture” under discussion at the summit would include “confronting threats from Iran and its proxies,” Yosef said, and would feature “a meaningful US presence.”

Earlier this month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Israel could be a “potential ally” of Riyadh.

“We don’t look at Israel as an enemy, we look to them as a potential ally, with many interests that we can pursue together,” Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler told US monthly magazine The Atlantic, according to remarks carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

“For us, we hope that the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is solved,” the prince said, according to remarks carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday, December 14, 2021. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

Despite the lack of open relations, the two nations are believed to have close covert ties, particularly on efforts to block Iran. Reports in November 2020 that Israel’s then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a secret visit to Saudi Arabia also sparked a flurry of speculation.

The kingdom denies that a meeting took place with Prince Mohammed.

US allies in the Middle East are wary of an emerging agreement between Iran and world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal that has been faltering after Washington pulled out in 2018.

The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent it from obtaining atomic weapons.

After the Trump administration withdrew and slapped Iran with crippling sanctions, Tehran dropped many of its own commitments and ramped up its program raising concerns it is reaching the threshold for producing a nuclear weapon.

European-sponsored talks in Vienna between Iran and the remaining parties to the JCPOA, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany, are said to be close to finalizing a new agreement. The US is participating in the talks indirectly through mediators.

Lazar Berman and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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