US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s Saudi Arabia visit (June 6-8) was important not just in the context of US-Saudi ties, because there have been differences between both countries due to several factors. Firstly, the Biden Administration has had uncomfortable relations with the Saudis. US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman (MBS) do not share a very cordial relationship, in contrast to ties between Former President Donald Trump and MBS. Biden had sought to mend ties with his visit to Saudi Arabia in July 2022, but aside from the symbolism the visit did not have any tangible achievements.
The US has not been comfortable with Riyadh’s growing proximity with Beijing, especially in the economic sphere. In comparison to Biden’s Saudi Arabia visit, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia in December 2022 was far more substantive, not just in the bilateral context, but the Chinese President also attended the first China-Arab States Summit as well as the first China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit.
Second, while the US has been asking Saudi Arabia to raise oil production to keep oil prices in check, Riyadh along with other Organization for Petroleum Exporting countries (OPEC)+ members has announced oil cuts, since it does not want global oil prices to slip below a certain level (so that it can fund some of its important infrastructural projects).
There was a strong regional dimension to the visit, Blinken addressed foreign ministers of GCC countries. The US Secretary of State spoke on several issues, including the normalization of ties between other Gulf countries and Israel. One of the important points he made was with regard to the US being very much… in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). At the opening of the US-GCC ministerial meeting, Blinken said:
“The United States is in this region to say we remain deeply invested in partnering with all of you,”
One of the reasons for GCC countries, especially Saudi Arabia and UAE tilting towards China has been the perceived US disinterest in the Gulf. It would be pertinent to point out, that some important initiatives pertaining to the Middle East – most prominently the I2U2 (US,UAE, India and Israel) have been initiated by the US. I2U2 seeks to strengthen cooperation between US, UAE, India and Israel in several areas including energy, transportation, health and food security.
There has also been talk of a railway project connecting UAE, Saudi Arabia and India. The US is playing an important role in pushing this ambitious initiative.
In conclusion, Blinken’s Saudi visit makes it amply clear, that in a changing geopolitical and economic situation, some GCC countries, specifically UAE and Saudi Arabia, may not have convergence on all key issues, but Washington takes it relations with the GCC seriously due to its strategic and economic importance. In spite of all the setbacks to US-Saudi and US-UAE ties, GCC countries also realize the importance of their economic and security relations with Washington.