Blinken heads to Saudi Arabia amid predicament, but Mideast needs to be wary of US creating division and turmoil to save waning influence
Published: Jun 05, 2023 09:20 PM
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks on China at Jack Morton Auditorium of George Washington University May 26, 2022 in Washington, DC. Photo: AFP

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks on China at Jack Morton Auditorium of George Washington University May 26, 2022 in Washington, DC. Photo: AFP

Amid the rapprochement momentum in the Middle East and the US' strategic dilemma in the region, Washington is trying to avoid the total collapse of its influence in the region, experts said on Monday, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to start his three-day Saudi Arabia trip for security and economy talks. 

Blinken's trip, from June 6 to 8, comes after a visit by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan in May. Experts emphasized that Middle Eastern countries need to be wary of the US creating more turmoil and division in the region. 

According to the US State Department, Blinken will meet with Saudi officials to "discuss US-Saudi strategic cooperation on regional and global issues and a range of bilateral issues including economic and security cooperation."

The top US diplomat will also attend the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) talks during his visit, and is set to co-host a meeting for the global coalition against ISIS.

Before Blinken's visit, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan met with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in South Africa during the foreign ministerial BRICS summit on June 2, Iranian media reported. 

In April, Saudi Arabia and Iran formally restored diplomatic ties after a seven-year rift. In May, foreign ministers from Arab League member states agreed to reinstate Syria's membership after its suspension for more than one decade. 

With the rapprochement process in the Middle East accelerating, observers are not optimistic about Blinken's visit. 

Liu Zhongmin, a professor with the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times that Blinken's visit reflects the current predicament Washington is facing in its Middle East policy.

On the one hand, the US is shifting its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region to compete with China, whether it is by reducing its presence in Iraq or withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. On the other hand, the US is reluctant to see its control in the Middle East weakened, Liu explained. 

The US cannot stop the trend of increasing autonomy in the Middle East, so it is trying to avoid a total collapse of its influence in the region, Liu said. 

Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Monday that Blinken's visit to Saudi Arabia would be a first-hand investigation and assessment. 

In the process of adapting to the new situation in the Middle East, the US would try to promote the transformation of the region's internal environment along the direction of reflecting American interests and influence, Li said. 

While the US is less likely to play a constructive role in the Middle East, its disruptive role cannot be underestimated, analysts said, especially given its military and diplomatic presence in the Middle East that no other power can match.

The US is likely to take stock of the situation and become more involved in the region in a more intense way, by sowing discord between different forces, destroying reconciliation, and creating more division, turmoil and even conflict, in order to reinforce its "indispensable American dominance," Li said. 

The oil-producing countries of the Middle East seem to have woken up to the risks, especially given that the US has already weaponized the dollar and energy, observers said. 

On June 2, Saudi minister of energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman met Zhang Jianhua, administrator of China's National Energy Administration in Riyadh. They discussed ways to strengthen relations between the two countries in various fields of energy, in order to achieve the goals of the Saudi Vision 2030 and the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, and to reflect the two countries' efforts to diversify and develop their economies, Arab News reported.

Middle East countries faced a historic opportunity to liquidate the power of the US and take control of their own destiny, and it will not be hard to find that the region is better off without the US, analysts said. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Monday that China supports regional countries in resolving differences and achieving good neighborliness through dialogue and consultation, and supports regional countries in strengthening unity and self-improvement and putting their future destiny firmly in their own hands. 

As a good friend of regional countries, China will continue to play an active and constructive role in promoting regional peace and stability, Wang said.