Portuguese / Spanish / English

CIA chief met Saudi crown prince in secret trip to mend ties

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 10, 2022 in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on worldwide threats. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 10, 2022 in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on worldwide threats. [Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images]

The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), William Burns, made an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia last month to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, according to an unnamed US official quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

The visit took place in mid-April in the coastal city of Jeddah. Details of what the two men discussed weren't available, but it's thought that oil production, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Iran nuclear deal and the war in Yemen were discussed during the meeting.

"It was a good conversation, better tone than prior U.S. government engagements," one American official is reported saying about Burns' meeting with Prince Mohammed, the 36-year-old de-facto ruler of the kingdom. The meeting yielded a "good conversation," the US official said.

Burns is a former deputy secretary of state who studied Arabic and held postings in the Middle East, as well as having prior experience in covert diplomacy. During the Obama administration, he helped lead secret talks with Iran that led to a multinational nuclear deal in 2015.

Burns travelled to Saudi Arabia with the relationship between Washington and Riyadh at its lowest point in decades, with then presidential candidate Joe Biden saying in 2019 that the kingdom should be treated like a "pariah" over human-rights issues such as the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A secret US intelligence assessment, released last year by Biden, determined that Bin Salman had approved the operation to "capture or kill" Khashoggi.

READ: Gulf doubled oil supplies to Europe to cover Russia shortage

Prince Mohammed has denied involvement in the killing and is reported to have yelled at Biden's national security adviser in September when the murder of Khashoggi was raised. Bin Salman apparently told the official that the US "could forget about its request to boost oil production."

The incident underscored the breakdown in the relationship between Washington and Riyadh since Bin Salman was appointed as Crown Prince in 2017. The early optimism and positive relations which he enjoyed during the administration of the then US President Donald Trump faded following the killing of Khashoggi in 2018 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The risk for the US, as noted in the WSJ, is that Riyadh will align more closely with China and Russia, or at least remain neutral on issues of vital interest to Washington, as it has on Ukraine. Last week, Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned during a hearing that "the Biden administration's Middle East policies have reinforced a claim of American disengagement [from the region] and pushed our long-standing partners towards China and Russia".

Multiple US officials have visited the kingdom repeatedly in the past year to try to heal the breach, with an eye to addressing Saudi concerns about security threats from Iran and the Houthis that Iran backs in Yemen. Biden is said to be opposed to any broad concessions to the Saudis.

Categories
Asia & AmericasChinaEurope & RussiaIranMiddle EastNewsRussiaSaudi ArabiaUkraineUSYemen
Show Comments
Writing Palestine - Celebrating the tenth year of the Palestine Book Awards - Buy your copy of the book now
Show Comments