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Saudis snub US push on Tel Aviv ties, oil prices, Syria during Blinken’s high-profile visit

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a joint news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on June 8, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Saudi officials have snubbed US Secretary of State’s latest push for the Kingdom’s normalization of relations with the Israeli regime and his bid to win further concessions on oil prices and Riyadh’s recent resumption of ties with Syria and Iran during his high-profile visit to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking in a news conference alongside Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in Riyadh on Thursday, the visiting Antony Blinken reiterated that Washington will continue to play an integral role in expanding normalization between the Tel Aviv regime and Saudi Arabia.

Blinken, who was in the kingdom as part of a US push to defuse rows that have touched on oil prices, and Riyadh's opening to Iran, further insisted that normalizing relations between Israeli regime and its neighbors was a priority for Washington.

The Saudi foreign minister, however, rebuffed his American counterpart, saying that the kingdom believes “normalization of ties with Israel will have limited benefit without a pathway to peace for the Palestinians.”

“The Palestinian issue was and remains the central issue for Arab countries, and it is at the top of the kingdom’s priorities,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had also underlined during the Arab League summit in Jeddah on May 19.

“We will not delay in providing assistance to the Palestinian people in recovering their lands, restoring their legitimate rights and establishing an independent state on the 1967 borders with East al-Quds as its capital,” he further noted at the time.

Blinken also reiterated on Thursday that Washington will not normalize relations with Syria and does not support other nation’s normalization of ties with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

For his part, Prince Faisal defended the landmark decision to lift Syria's Arab League suspension, which came shortly after the start of the country's foreign-sponsored conflict 12 years ago.

“Syria made very clear commitments to address concerns of the international community,” the chief Saudi diplomat said.

“We have differences of opinion but we're working on finding a mechanism for us to be able to work together,” the Saudi foreign minister also pointed out during the press conference with the US secretary of state.

The Saudi foreign minister also highlighted that China and Saudi Arabia are close and strategic allies and have been increasing cooperation in the energy and financial sectors, and that “cooperation is likely to grow.”

Saudi ties with US, China not a ‘Zero-sum game’

He said Saudi Arabia’s ties with the United States and China were not a “zero-sum game.”

“I don't ascribe to this zero-sum game,” Prince Faisal said in Riyadh. “We are all capable of having multiple partnerships and multiple engagements and the US does the same in many instances.

“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,” the top Saudi diplomat said.

Riyadh’s strengthening its commercial and security ties with Beijing comes as US influence wanes in the Middle East region.

Blinken was the second top US official to visit Saudi Arabia in less than a month, following a May 7 trip by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

However, Blinken's meetings with bin Salman and Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers were relegated to the inside pages of Al-Watan and Okaz, the two major newspapers in Saudi Arabia.

Blinken and the crown prince had "open, candid" talks for an hour and 40 minutes, a US official said, covering topics including the conflict in neighboring Yemen, the war in Sudan, Israel, and human rights.

Riyadh has also leveraged its growing relationships with Russia and China as the Biden administration has pushed back against some Saudi demands including lifting restrictions on arms sales and help with sensitive high-tech industries.

Riyadh has clashed repeatedly with US President Joe Biden on its supply of crude oil to global markets, its willingness to partner with Russia in OPEC+ and its decision to restore full diplomatic relations with Iran in a deal brokered by China.

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