CIA Director William Burns (Photo credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN / REUTERS)
The head of the CIA made an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia in April with the goal of mending ties with the Gulf kingdom, according to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report from 3 May.
William Burns, director of the CIA, visited Jeddah to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to discuss relations between the two countries, which are currently at their lowest point in decades.
“It was a good conversation, better tone than prior US government engagements,” a US official said in relation to the atmosphere of the meeting.
The details of the meeting remain a secret, but the known issues that are a source of tension between Washington and Riyadh include controlling oil prices in the wake of the unprecedented sanctions against Russia and securing increased US support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen.
According to a previous WSJ report in September 2021, MbS shouted at US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan after being pressed on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
At the time, MbS reportedly told Sullivan that the US can forget about asking OPEC to increase oil supplies to lower prices.
Since then, OPEC has maintained its quotas despite pressures from the west to increase output following fuel shortages due to the sanctions against Russian energy exports. OPEC member states have opted to maintain ties with Moscow.
Due to OPEC’s refusal to comply with an increase in oil prices, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken skipped visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE during a trip to West Asia and North Africa in March.
A former Saudi official recently stated that the US is to blame for the recent energy crises affected by shortages and price increases.
Saudi Arabia is also dissatisfied with what it perceives as insufficient US support for its brutal war against Yemen, especially in view of the US removal of the advanced Patriot and THAAD missile defense systems from the kingdom in 2021.
In response, MbS suggested in an interview from 3 March that the Gulf kingdom may reduce its investments in the US.
“We have the possibility of boosting our interests, and the possibility of reducing them,” MbS declared.
In late March, the US re-deployed some Patriot air defense systems in the Gulf kingdom as a show of increased support for the war against Yemen. The US also deployed a naval task force in the Red Sea.
However, this has not stopped Saudi Arabia from gravitating outside the US circle, with considerations among leadership in Riyadh for pricing oil sales to China in the Chinese currency, the yuan.
The Saudi-led blockade of Yemen, which has not eased despite requirements by the recent UN-brokered truce to do so, has caused what the UN calls “one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time.”