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Saudi crown prince, Blinken hold ‘candid’ talks in Jeddah

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JEDDAH: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had an “open, candid” conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the early hours of Wednesday about a wide range of bilateral issues, a US official said.

The top US diplomat arrived in Saudi Arabia late on Tuesday for a much anticipated visit amid frayed ties due to deepening disagreements on everything from Iran policy to regional security issues, and oil prices.

Washington has struggled to steady the relationship with Riyadh, where the Crown 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.

Blinken and the crown prince met for an hour and forty minutes, a US official said, covering various topics and mutual ties.

“There was a good degree of convergence on potential initiatives where we share the same interests, while also recognising where we have differences,” the US official said.

Saudi Arabia is the Middle East powerhouse and home to Islam’s two holiest shrines.

Developing a civilian nuclear programme is among Riyadh’s discussion topics, a source familiar with the talks said. Saudi or US officials have not publicly confirmed that.

However US officials have said in the past they would share nuclear power technology only if the agreement prevents enrichment of uranium or reprocessing of plutonium made in reactors - two routes to making nuclear weapons.

Two days after Blinken’s visit, Riyadh will host a major Arab-Chinese investment conference.

Jonathan Fulton, non-resident senior fellow at Atlantic Council, said China would help the Saudis in sectors where the US won’t but the relationship between Riyadh and Beijing did not have the same depth as with Washington.

“At this point I’d still characterise the US-Saudi relationship as strategic and the China-Saudi relationship as transactional,” Fulton said.

MbS and Blinken also discussed Yemen and potential ways to revive normal situation, while Blinken thanked the crown prince for the kingdom’s role in pushing for a ceasefire in Sudan and helping evacuate US citizens.

The kingdom has been pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into transforming and opening its economy to reduce dependence on crude oil. — Reuters

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