RIYADH(AFP)-In his second visit to Saudi Arabia since taking office, US Secretary of State Anthony Blanken launched a diplomatic mission to hold talks with Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The visit comes against a backdrop of emerging dynamics between the two countries, as Saudi Arabia asserts its autonomy in decision-making, sometimes deviating from US interests.
One of the main areas of conflict has been Saudi Arabia’s liberal stance on issues such as the supply of crude oil to global markets, cooperation with Russia within the framework of OPEC+, and China-mediated detente with Iran. President Joe Biden’s administration has also strongly criticized the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and vowed to hold Saudi Arabia accountable.
Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia, like other Gulf Arab states, relies on the United States to ensure regional security amid rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear program. Cooperative efforts between Riyadh and Washington are underway for a lasting ceasefire in Sudan, which has been plagued by conflict between the army and rival paramilitaries. Moreover, the two countries aim to end the war in Yemen, which is a common goal.
Although relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia may appear strained due to public disputes, basic cooperation on security matters has strengthened. However, some challenges remain, particularly within the US Congress, where concerns over human rights abuses and the Khashoggi case remain.
During his visit, Secretary Blanken emphasized the importance of human rights and raised issues surrounding Khashoggi’s death. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arabian Peninsula Affairs Daniel Benaim highlighted that human rights are a core component of the Biden administration’s engagement with countries in the region, without going into specifics.
In addition to meeting Crown Prince Mohammed, Blanken attended an anti-Islamic State summit in Riyadh and met with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers. The US wants to deepen its diplomatic involvement in the region to ensure long-term stability and prevent strategic rivals from filling the power vacuum.
However, a number of challenges continue to complicate US-Saudi relations. Efforts to end the Yemen conflict and facilitate a prisoner exchange have resulted in no resolution. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has expressed a desire for nuclear cooperation that includes uranium enrichment, expressing concerns about non-proliferation and potential weapons programs. Meanwhile, the Biden administration remains committed to diplomacy as the primary means of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but insists that all options are on the table.
Despite recent moves by Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to make Saudi Arabia unlikely to recognize Israel diplomatically, Saudi Arabia continues to advocate for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The current Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, challenges such aspirations given its right-wing and religious makeup.
Secretary Blanken’s visit underscores the complexities in the U.S.-Saudi relationship, which is characterized by a mix of shared interests, divergent perspectives, and ongoing challenges. As the two countries navigate sensitive issues of oil, human rights and regional security, the outcome of their engagement will shape future dynamics in the Middle East.