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Blinken and Saudi counterpart discuss common challenges in first phone call

The two diplomats said to focus on regional stability, after Washington announces end to support for Saudi war in Yemen

Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at the State Department, October 14, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Manuel Balce CENETA / POOL / AFP)
Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at the State Department, October 14, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Manuel Balce CENETA / POOL / AFP)

RIYADH — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed “common challenges” faced by Washington and Riyadh in his first phone call with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, state media said Saturday.

Bin Farhan congratulated Blinken on his appointment and said Riyadh looked forward to working with Washington, said the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The kingdom was keen to cooperate with President Joe Biden’s US administration to uphold “security and stability” in the region, it said.

Blinken and bin Farhan also discussed the “historical and strategic relations” between the two countries, the agency added.

Antony Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on January 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

The reported phone call comes after Biden announced Thursday he was ending US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, where it has been involved since 2015 to shore up the government against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

Biden also said his administration would end all support, including connected arms sales for ally Saudi Arabia in the war that has brought impoverished Yemen to its knees.

He also appointed veteran diplomat Timothy Lenderking, who has wide knowledge of the region, as US special envoy for Yemen.

Workers salvage oil canisters from the wreckage of a vehicle oil store hit by Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen on July 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Saudi Arabia reacted to Biden’s decisions by welcoming his “commitment to cooperate with the kingdom to defend its sovereignty and counter threats against it,” SPA said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price has noted that Biden made clear the United States still supported Saudi Arabia outside the Yemen war.

He described the administration’s stance as a “return to standard procedures” in reviewing every arms deal.

In ending support for the Saudi war in Yemen, Biden was fulfilling a campaign promise to activists who have been horrified by the suffering.

The grinding six-year war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions, triggering what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, and the Huthis have welcomed Biden’s stance and the renewed push to end the conflict.

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