US rejects notion it is disengaged from Middle East after Saudi-Iran deal

“I have a difficult time wrapping my head around our role could be supplanted when no country on Earth has done more to help build a more stable, a more integrated region,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said.

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The State Department has said that its role in the Middle East remains strong and Washington remains “deeply engaged” in the region despite the recent China-backed deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to normalize ties.

After a surprise announcement last week about the agreement, the Biden administration was heavily criticized for what was seen as a lack of interest in the Middle East and for allowing Beijing to pounce on the opportunity to make an unprecedented diplomatic gain in the region.

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Over the next two months, the top Saudi and Iranian diplomats are expected to meet before both countries reopen their embassies in their respective capitals.

Asked if the deal sidelines the US from the region, the State Department said Monday that it supported “anything that would serve to de-escalate tensions in the region and potentially help to prevent conflict.”

Outgoing State Department Spokesman Ned Price said America is “deeply engaged with the Middle East.”

He added: “We have a long way to go, but everything we’ve done over the past couple years points to what we’re trying to achieve.”

But Price played down the notion that the Saudi-Iranian agreement was about China. “When it comes to our role in the region – and whether, as I’ve read, our role may be being supplanted, some allege – I have a difficult time wrapping my head around our role could be supplanted when no country on Earth has done more to help build a more stable, a more integrated region.”

Reports in US media have suggested that Riyadh was pressing the US for concessions, including helping Saudi Arabia’s civilian nuclear program, as part of normalizing ties with Israel. The Saudi government has not commented on these reports, while the Israelis have made no secret of their hope to normalize with Saudi Arabia.

While the US supports normalization between Israel and its Muslim and Arab neighbors, Price did not comment on the details of any potential talks.

Asked if the US would rule out providing nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia, he said: “I’m just not going to weigh in on a specific proposal.”

Read more: US welcomes China-backed Saudi-Iranian deal to restore ties, White House says

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