Senior US delegation makes Saudi visit for a push on regional issues

Middle East adviser Brett McGurk is in Riyadh with Barbara Leaf, the Assistant Secretary of State of Near East Affairs, and Tim Lenderking, special envoy for Yemen

Brett McGurk, US President Joe Biden's adviser on Middle East affairs, is expected to hold talks with a Palestinian delegation in Riyadh. AFP
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A delegation of senior US officials is in Saudi Arabia for a push on regional issues, including the war in Yemen, and a meeting with a Palestinian delegation, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.

President Joe Biden's adviser on Middle East affairs, Brett McGurk, is in Riyadh with Barbara Leaf, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and Tim Lenderking, Mr Biden's special envoy for Yemen, Mr Sullivan said on Tuesday.

“We are entering either our 17th or 18 month – 18th month of a truce – the longest period of peace in Yemen in years, which has been delivered in part through painstaking US diplomacy,” he said. “We not only want to keep that going, we want to deepen it and get to a permanent peace in Yemen. And that’s one of the main reasons that Brett is there.”

Mr Sullivan said the US officials would also meet a Palestinian delegation in the Saudi capital, after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a phone call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday.

A Palestinian delegation led by Hussein Al Sheikh, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee, has arrived in Riyadh for talks with Saudi and American officials, a source told The National.

Mr McGurk will "speak to the Palestinians about the whole range of issues relative to the Israeli-Palestinian file", Mr Sullivan said.

Mr Blinken expressed concern about the ongoing violence in the West Bank during his conversation with Mr Abbas, the State Department said.

The Palestinian President's office said Mr Abbas told Mr Blinken that “what the Israeli occupation authorities and their forces and settlers who practise terrorism are doing contributes to undermining the two-state solution and destroys all chances of achieving peace”.

He also called for "building normal relations between the American administration and the State of Palestine, including reopening the American consulate in Jerusalem and an office for Palestine in Washington, and restoring the direct aid programme".

In September 2018, the US announced the closure of the PLO office in Washington DC after the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to open a criminal investigation against Israel before the International Criminal Court.

Mr Abbas also told Mr Blinken of the need for "the Israeli occupation authorities to stop all their aggressive practices and unilateral Israeli actions, adhere to the signed agreements, and move towards the political horizon", his office said.

Mr Sullivan played down the prospects of a deal to normalise ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel being reached during the US delegation’s visit to Riyadh.

“Normalisation will be one of the topics on the agenda, but it’s not the main thrust of this trip,” he said.

A source from the Saudi Foreign Ministry told The National that a meeting between the US delegation and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is yet to be confirmed. The Crown Prince and King Salman are in Neom, where they held a meeting of cabinet ministers late on Tuesday evening.

Mr Lenderking is back in the Gulf just two weeks after his last trip to the region, when he told The National that he was heartened by progress made in the Yemen peace process.

“Conversations regarding a new agreement are continuing, but ultimately we must get the Yemeni parties together to reach a solution on critical issues and help chart a brighter future for their country,” he said.

Updated: September 06, 2023, 9:25 AM