RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The United States is working to expand the Abraham Accords and is committed to its Gulf Arab partners, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Gulf diplomats in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday at a time of rapidly shifting regional alliances.
Blinken spoke during a Gulf Cooperation Council ministerial meeting in the capital Riyadh following talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and the kingdom’s de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“We are collaborating with countries in the region to widen and deepen the normalization of relations with Israel.” Blinken said at the opening of the US-GCC ministerial meeting on strategic partnership.
Blinken raised the possibility of Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel during his meeting a day earlier with bin Salman, a US official told The Times of Israel.
But the Biden administration has also sought to lower expectations that such a deal could be imminent and Blinken’s speech focused more on assuring US allies in the region.
“The United States is in this region to say we remain deeply invested in partnering with all of you,” he stressed.
“The GCC is the core of our vision for a Middle East that is more stable, more secure, more prosperous,” he added.
The meetings came a day after Blinken flew into Jeddah, kickstarting a visit aimed at boosting ties with ally Saudi Arabia, which has begun forging closer relations with Washington’s rivals.
Relations between the decades-old allies have been strained in recent times, mainly over human rights and oil, after US pleas for help in bringing down skyrocketing prices last year were dismissed.
The three-day visit is Blinken’s first since the kingdom restored diplomatic ties with Iran, which the West considers a pariah over its contested nuclear activities and involvement in regional conflicts.
On Tuesday, the day Blinken arrived, Iran reopened its embassy in Riyadh after a seven-year closure, with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Alireza Bigdeli hailing a “new era” in ties.
On the same day, Prince Mohammed hosted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the head of a fellow oil power who has long sparred with Washington.
Last month, in a major shift, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad attended an Arab League summit in Jeddah, his first since Syria’s membership was suspended at the start of its 12-year civil war. Washington criticized the decision to invite Assad.
‘Open, candid discussion’
Wednesday’s meeting at the GCC headquarters in Riyadh was attended by Qatar’s prime minister among other leading Gulf officials.
On the agenda were key regional issues, including conflicts in Yemen, Sudan, Syria and the Palestinian territories.
“Together, we are working to achieve a… resolution to the conflict in Yemen,” and to “continue to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior,” including recent seizures of tankers in international waters, Blinken told the GCC ministers.
“We are determined to find a political solution in Syria that maintains its unity and sovereignty and meets the aspirations of its people,” he added.
Shortly before the meeting, Blinked held talks with Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat.
The two “resolved to continue to work together to counter terrorism, to support efforts to bring about a lasting peace in Yemen, and to promote stability, security, deescalation, and integration in the region,” the US State Department said.
“The two sides pledged to continue their strong cooperation to end the fighting in Sudan,” it added in a statement.
Since announcing resumed relations with Iran in March, Saudi Arabia has restored ties with Tehran ally Syria and ramped up a push for peace in Yemen, where it has for years led a military coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran have been at loggerheads for years, backing opposing sides in a number of conflicts around the volatile region.
On Tuesday, Blinken had “an open, candid discussion” with the 37-year-old Prince Mohammed in Jeddah, a US official said on condition of anonymity.
“The secretary raised human rights both generally and with regards to specific issues,” the official said.
The meeting, which lasted about 100 minutes, touched on topics including Saudi Arabia’s support for US evacuations from Sudan, the need for political dialogue in Yemen and the potential for the normalization of relations with Israel.
The two men discussed “our shared priorities, including countering terrorism through the D-ISIS Coalition, achieving peace in Yemen, and deepening economic and scientific cooperation,” Blinken said on social media.