Biden’s top national security officials plan separate visits to Saudi Arabia
President Joe Biden’s national security adviser and his top diplomat are planning separate trips to Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with the matter, in a new sign of the administration’s determination to smooth over rocky ties with the Kingdom.
First up will be National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who plans to meet his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and India in the Kingdom next week, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a trip that hasn’t been publicly disclosed. Sullivan will also meet with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
After that, Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to visit Saudi Arabia in June for a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the people said.
A State Department spokesman said the agency has no travel to announce, while the National Security Council declined to comment. The Saudi government didn’t respond to request for comment.
Sullivan’s meeting will mark the first of its kind between the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and India. Key themes will be diversifying supply chains and investments in strategic infrastructure projects, including ports, rail and minerals, one of the people said.
The consecutive trips by high-level US officials highlight that the administration is determined to get past the frostiness that has defined relations between Washington and Riyadh. As a candidate, Biden had said he would treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah,” and the two sides traded barbs last year when Saudi Arabia agreed to cut OPEC+ crude output in defiance of US wishes.
Saudi Arabia and its OPEC+ partners cut output again last month, in a move the Biden administration said was ill-advised. In another sign of increasingly tenuous US influence over Saudi Arabia, Chinese President Xi Jinping helped deliver a deal in March to resume diplomatic ties between Iran and the Kingdom.
Ahead of Sullivan’s trip to the Kingdom, Amos Hochstein, Biden’s senior adviser for energy and investment, and Brett McGurk, National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East, met with UAE leaders last week, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and UAE National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, according to people familiar with the meetings.
Sullivan spoke to the Saudi Crown Prince on April 11, noting progress to end the war in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s “extraordinary efforts to pursue a road map to peace,” according to a White House statement. The two sides also agreed to “accelerate contact on issues including clean energy and infrastructure investment.”
The US has also been working closely with Saudi Arabia in Sudan. Biden thanked Riyadh in a statement on April 22, saying the kingdom was “critical to the success of our operation to extract US government personnel from Khartoum.”