US stunned by Saudi Arabia’s bold diplomatic moves

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (Caasimada Online) – The United States has been caught off guard by Saudi Arabia’s recent decisions to restore diplomatic ties with Iran and Syria, reflecting the kingdom’s increasingly independent foreign policy stance.

CIA director Bill Burns traveled to Saudi Arabia this week to discuss intelligence cooperation and express Washington’s frustration at being left out of regional developments, as the Wall Street Journal reported.

Diplomatic surprises

Riyadh’s moves have left the US on the sidelines, raising concerns about its diminishing influence in the Middle East.

Last month, Saudi Arabia agreed to re-establish ties with Iran, a deal brokered by China, Washington’s arch-rival.

This announcement was initially met with skepticism by US officials.

A former senior US official questioned the validity of the reports, while an acting US official downplayed the breakthrough, stating that the US would wait to assess its impact.

Despite doubts, Riyadh and Tehran appear committed to moving their relationship forward.

The WSJ reports that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has accepted a Saudi invitation to visit the kingdom, though a date has yet to be set.

Top diplomats from both countries recently met in Beijing, agreeing to restore flights, facilitate visas, and reopen their embassies and consulates.

Challenging the US narrative

Burns’ comments contradict the US’s official stance that Saudi Arabia kept them informed of their talks with Iran.

White House spokesman John Kirby stated last month, “The Saudis did keep us informed about these talks that they were having, just as we keep them informed on our engagements.”

US officials have also emphasized their support for dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia long before Beijing’s involvement.

Timothy Lenderking, the US special envoy to Yemen, told MEE last year that the US was “encouraging” talks between the two adversaries to address Saudi Arabia’s security concerns in Yemen.

Normalizing relations with Syria

The US faces a more significant challenge in Saudi Arabia’s efforts to reestablish ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported by Russia and Iran.

The US opposes normalization and has imposed crippling sanctions on Damascus. Nevertheless, Riyadh is forging ahead, planning to invite Assad to an Arab League summit in May.

According to Reuters, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan is expected to deliver the invitation to Assad in the coming weeks personally.

Burns: Diplomatic troubleshooter

Burns has earned a reputation as the White House’s “back-channel” emissary for sensitive foreign policy missions.

He traveled to Russia last year in a failed attempt to dissuade President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine and visited Saudi Arabia to mend ties ahead of President Biden’s July visit.

Burns’ recent trip coincides with Saudi Arabia’s surprise decision to implement an oil production cut, which sent crude prices soaring and drew criticism from the Biden administration for aligning with Russia during the Ukraine conflict.

Despite US objections, Saudi Arabia dismisses concerns and criticizes Western-backed energy transition goals as unrealistic.

Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman offered a pointed critique, asking after the OPEC+ production cut in October, “We keep hearing you ‘are with us or against us.’ Is there any room for ‘we are with the people of Saudi Arabia?'”