US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Saudi Arabia next week at a time of touchy relations between Washington and its longtime Middle East ally, the State Department announced Friday.
The Sudan and Yemen wars, the continued Islamic State threat, and building Riyadh’s relationship with Israel are on the menu for Blinken’s June 6-8 trip.
It comes as both the United States and Saudi Arabia are seeking to broker a durable cease fire between Sudan’s warring generals in talks in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
“There is just a tremendous amount of work that we’re trying to do” with the visit, said Daniel Benaim, a senior State Department official dealing with Arabian Peninsula affairs.
“We’re focused on an affirmative agenda here and the great deal of work our countries can do together.”
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– Countering IS –
Blinken will participate in a ministerial meeting on Wednesday with the Gulf Cooperation Council, and on Thursday he will join a meeting in Riyadh of the 80-strong coalition of countries fighting the Islamic State group.
That meeting will home in on the spread of jihadist extremism outside the Middle East, according to Ian McCary of the Department of State’s Counterterrorism Bureau.
“We’re focusing in particular on Africa, where violent groups have adopted ISIS’s ideology and are attacking innocent people, destroying local economies, burning schools and healthcare centers, extorting communities, and preventing the creation of jobs,” McCary said, using another acronym for the Islamic State.
The Riyadh gathering “underscores that the international community remains united in its determination to keep ISIS weak, fractured, and ultimately destroyed,” he said.
The coalition will raise hundreds of millions of dollars to support community-level stabilization projects, said McCary, and Blinken will announce a “significant” new US contribution, he said.