The CIA director visited Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman this week and reportedly expressed Washington’s frustration for being “blindsided” over Saudi-Iran agreements brokered by China.
According to the words of US officials this Saturday, the director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Bill Burns, made an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia this week to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In the meeting that took place in Riyadh, Burns reportedly expressed strong displeasure of the US over Saudi Arabia for resuming ties with Iran and Syria through mediation brokered by China and Russia, two of the US biggest rivals.
Speaking to Al-Monitor. on condition of anonymity, a US official confirmed the trip, without disclosing the exact day when it happened, and said that “Director Burns traveled to Saudi Arabia where he met with intelligence counterparts and country leaders on issues of shared interest”.
The official also noted that during the meeting, Burns discussed intelligence cooperation, especially in the area of counterterrorism with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But that was not all; After nice talks and promise of more bilateral engagement on various fields, the US spy chief expressed displeasure over Riyadh’s ongoing rapprochement with both Iran and Syria.
A report by the Wall Street Journal also dealt with the CIA director’s trip to Riyadh and echoed the words of the US official who previously talks to the Al-Monitor news website. “Burns expressed frustration with the Saudis, according to people familiar with the matter. He told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the US has felt blindsided by Riyadh’s rapprochement with Iran and Syria,” the WSJ said this Saturday.
No ear for listening to Washington’s concerns
It was on March 10 that Saudi Arabia and Iran issued a surprise joint statement, co-signed with China, to restore diplomatic ties after more than 7 years of stalemate in relations. The announcement came after days of negotiations in Beijing and both Saudi Arabia and Iran thanked China for its constructive role in sponsoring the talks.
The deal was seen as a diplomatic coup for Xi Jinping, China’s leader, as he tries to position himself as a global statesman and peacemaker. Foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran also met Thursday again in China to further extend relations. During the meeting, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and Iran’s Hossein Amir-Abdollahian discussed the reopening of embassies, the appointment of ambassadors and a planned visit to Saudi Arabia by Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s president. They also talked about resuming flights between the two countries and issuing travel visas for each other’s’ citizens.
Upon this diplomatic triumph of China, officials in Washington tried to downplay any suggestion that the Beijing-brokered agreement represented a blow to Washington’s influence in the Middle East. But Burns’ unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia and expressing so much anger at bin-Salman for Iran raproachment policies prove otherwise.
On Syria, Russia is also actively mediating between Riyadh and Damascus for normalization of ties between the two countries. Saudi Arabia is mulling an invite to Assad to the Arab League summit that Riyadh will host next month.
Last week, state television in the kingdom reported that Saudi Arabia is in talks with Syria to reopen its embassy in the war-torn nation for the first time in a decade. In addition to Saudi Arabia, other Arab nations including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Oman, Algeria and Jordan have all resumed diplomatic ties with Assad government in Syria, whose government remains under heavy US sanctions.