U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday on a trip to strengthen strained ties with the oil-rich kingdom as the long-time U.S. ally forges closer relations with Washington’s rivals.
Blinken’s three-day visit will also focus on efforts to end conflicts in Sudan and Yemen, the joint battle against the Islamic State group (IS), and the Arab world’s relations with Israel.
Blinken met Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman late Tuesday, with the State Department saying they discussed their “shared commitment to advance stability, security, and prosperity across the Middle East and beyond.”
“The secretary also emphasized that our bilateral relationship is strengthened by progress on human rights,” a statement added.
Blinken and bin Salman also discussed the possibility of Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel, a U.S. official said, adding that the two agreed to continue conversations on the matter moving forward.
Blinken will head to Riyadh Wednesday for a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting.
His trip comes at a time of quickly shifting alliances in the Middle East, centered on a China-brokered rapprochement between regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran in March.
The visit is Blinken’s first since the kingdom restored diplomatic ties with Iran, which the West considers a pariah over its contested nuclear activities and involvement in regional conflicts.
U.S.-Saudi relations, centered for decades on energy and defense, were badly strained by the 2018 murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.