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Blinken’s ‘tent meeting’ with Saudi crown prince

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AL ULA: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met on Monday with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler before heading to Israel as part of efforts to stop the Gaza crisis spiralling into a regional conflict.

Blinken was expected to discuss Red Sea attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour, during his talks with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Their private ‘tent meeting’ in Al Ula, a historic oasis in western Saudi Arabia, is the latest leg of a rapid tour of the region as concerns over the Gaza crisis continue to mount.

The talks were also set to touch on a potential normalisation of ties with Israel after initial discussions were put on hold by the crisis, a senior official said.

Blinken “emphasised the importance of preventing further spread of the conflict”, during talks in Abu Dhabi earlier with United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a US summary of the meeting said.

“This is a conflict that could easily metastasise, causing even more insecurity and even more suffering,” Blinken said on Sunday in Qatar, the previous leg of his whistlestop tour.Vowing solidarity with the Palestinians, Yemen’s Houthis have launched more than 100 drone and missile attacks on targets in Israel and the Red Sea, disrupting traffic in the key shipping route.

The United States and 11 allies last week warned of unspecified consequences if the attacks continue. But the situation is tense for Riyadh as it coincides with attempts to settle a long-running war between the Houthis and a Saudi-led international coalition.

Blinken’s meeting with Prince Mohammed is also a chance to sound out the Saudis on the prospect of an eventual normalisation with Israel, a senior US official said — even if progress appears unlikely while the three-month aggression continues.

Saudi Arabia did not join the handful of Arab countries — including its neighbour the United Arab Emirates — in signing the US-brokered Abraham Accords recognising Israel in 2020.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2024

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