US Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to Saudi Arabia today to strengthen strained ties with the long-time ally as the oil-rich kingdom forges closer relations with America’s rivals.
Blinken’s three-day trip will also focus on efforts to end conflicts in Sudan and Yemen, the joint battle against the Islamic State group, and the Arab world’s relations with Israel.
He is due to land in the Red Sea city of Jeddah this evening and is expected to meet Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, before heading to Riyadh tomorrow for a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting.
The 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.
The US hopes that Saudi Arabia will eventually agree to normalize relations with Israel, which already built ties with several other Arab countries under the Abraham Accords brokered by the Donald Trump administration.
On the eve of his Saudi trip, Blinken reiterated that “the United States has a real national security interest in promoting normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia.” He said Washington has “no illusions” that this can be done quickly or easily but stressed that “we remain committed to working toward that outcome.”
Last month, reports swirled for days that Jerusalem and Riyadh were working toward a US-brokered deal to allow direct flights from Tel Aviv to Jeddah next month for the Hajj annual Muslim pilgrimage that could lead to a larger normalization deal, although the US sought to downplay such reports.