RIYADH: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saudi Arabia was not being forced to choose between Washington and Beijing, striking a conciliatory tone in Riyadh following tensions with the long-time ally.
Blinken, appearing alongside his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan at the end of a three-day visit, denied that Saudi Arabia’s warming ties with China were a problem for the United States.
He added that the United States supported the humanitarian goals that Prince Faisal said were behind lifting Syria’s suspension from the Arab League, a move that was condemned by Washington.
“We’ve... been very clear we’re not asking anyone to choose between the United States and China,” Blinken told media after a meeting of the global coalition fighting the Islamic State group.
“We’re simply trying to demonstrate the benefits of our partnership and the affirmative agenda that we bring.” China demonstrated its growing clout in the Middle East when it brokered a surprise rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March, seven years after the heavyweights severed ties.
Riyadh’s strengthening relations with Beijing follow recent tensions between Saudi Arabia and the US, its decades-old security guarantor, mainly over human rights and oil prices.Washington is also seen as playing a reduced role in the region, where it has long acted as a protector to its allies including Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter. But Prince Faisal said relations with the US and China were not a “zero-sum game” for Saudi Arabia.
“We are all capable of having multiple partnerships and multiple engagements and the US does the same in many instances,” he said.
“So I’m not caught up in this really negative view of this. I think we can actually build a partnership that crosses these borders.” As if to demonstrate these “multiple partnerships”, de facto Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman had a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, and also hosted Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro this week.
“Preserving the stability of the global energy market was discussed extensively,” a Kremlin statement said, referring to the phone call. Blinken’s trip comes at a time of quickly shifting alliances in the region triggered by the detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which reopened its embassy in Riyadh on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia has also resumed ties with Syria, whose leader Bashar al-Assad last month attended his first Arab League summit since the start of Syria’s 12-year civil war.
“Regardless of what one thinks about Bashar al-Assad, we took the only pathway to resolving the humanitarian challenges that we face in the aftermath of the Syrian crisis,” Prince Faisal said.
Blinken said the US did not agree with lifting Syria’s Arab League suspension, but was aligned with the goals of working towards a peace process, stopping the re-emergence of IS, allowing access to humanitarian aid and stopping the captagon trade.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2023