According to a US official, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a “open, candid” chat with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the early hours of Wednesday regarding a wide range of bilateral problems.
The senior US ambassador landed in Saudi Arabia late Tuesday for a much-anticipated visit amid strained ties over concerns ranging from Iran policy to regional security, oil pricing, and human rights.
Washington has struggled to steady the relationship with Riyadh, where the de facto ruler Prince Mohammed has dominated the decision-making, and as the traditional oil-for-security alliance crumbled under the emergence of the United States as a major oil producer.
Blinken’s visit came days after top crude exporter Saudi Arabia pledged to deepen oil output cuts on top of a broader OPEC+ deal to limit supply, as it seeks to boost flagging oil prices despite opposition from the U.S. administration.
Blinken and the crown prince, known as MbS, met for an hour and 40 minutes, a U.S. official said, covering topics including Israel, the conflict in Yemen, unrest in Sudan as well as human rights.
“There was a good degree of convergence on potential initiatives where we share the same interests, while also recognizing where we have differences,” the U.S. official said.
A good part of the discussion was expected to be dominated by the possible normalization of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, even though officials had played down the likelihood of any immediate or major progress on the issue.
“They discussed the potential for normalization of relations with Israel and agreed to continued dialogue on the issue,” the U.S. official said, without providing further details.
In a speech in Washington on Monday before departing for Jeddah, Blinken cautioned that any breakthrough on the issue would not be immediate. “We have no illusions that this can be done quickly or easily,” he said.
Saudi Arabia, a Middle East powerhouse and home to Islam’s two holiest shrines, gave its blessing to Gulf neighbors United Arab Emirates and Bahrain establishing relations with Israel in 2020 under the previous U.S. administration of Donald Trump.
Riyadh has not followed suit, saying Palestinian statehood goals should be addressed first. In April, Saudi Arabia restored ties with Iran, a regional rival and Israel’s arch-foe.