Home Middle East Senior US delegation in Riyadh shows commitment to region: Official

Senior US delegation in Riyadh shows commitment to region: Official


“The US is quite engaged and quite focused in the Middle East,” said the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.

Senior US officials from the Biden administration are set to take part in security meetings this week in Riyadh to discuss Iran and other common threats, officials said, pushing back against claims that Washington is looking to distance itself from the Middle East.

The US government delegation scheduled to participate in the US-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Working Group meetings from February 13-16 will include officials from the Pentagon, State Department and the National Security Council.

Integrated air and missile defense and maritime security will be two main topics discussed, according to US officials.

But other working groups will meet focusing on the continued threat by Iran as well as a counterterrorism group.

The US delegation for the working group on Iran will be US special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, while the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, Dana Stroul, will head the US delegation for other security working groups. Senior military and civilian officials will also partake in the meetings.

This week’s meetings will be the second time they meet after the first working group meetings took place last March.

Follow-up talks were slated to be held last October, but the US put off the meetings after growing frustrated with a decision by OPEC+ members to cut oil output. Washington slammed the oil-producing countries, alleging that their decision meant they were siding with Russia in the aftermath of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.

But strengthening US-GCC ties has been a key priority for successive US administrations, including the Biden administration, according to a senior US defense official.

One of the main things to take note of during this week’s talks is that the narrative in the region that the US is disinterested, disengaged and leaving the Middle East is not valid, the official said.

“I think that the senior high level of officials spending their week in Riyadh meeting with officials from the GCC in this format really speaks to the fact that that is a false narrative,” the official told a small group of reporters at the Pentagon ahead of the meetings. “The US is quite engaged and quite focused in the Middle East,” said the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.

US ties with its traditional Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have been turbulent since President Joe Biden took office.

Some of his first foreign policy moves included freezing arms sales to the two Gulf powerhouses, removing the Iran-backed Houthis from the terror blacklist, and ending US support for “offensive” operations of the Arab Coalition in Yemen.

But the Biden administration has grown frustrated with a lack of cooperation from Yemen’s Houthis as it tries to secure a peaceful solution to the yearslong war. Iran has also dented the Biden administration’s hopes of reviving the now-defunct 2015 nuclear deal.

And with Iran’s continued backing for attacks on US interests in the region as well as its allies, Washington is no longer prioritizing a nuclear deal with Tehran.

This week’s meetings are meant to display the importance that US officials are placing on ties with GCC countries. Representatives from NASA, the US Navy Central Command, US Air Force Central Command, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and many others will be in Riyadh.

“That’s a pretty sizable grouping of defense, civilians and military officials all coming together to consult in this format,” the senior defense official said. “It’s because… we think, given the scale and scope of challenges facing the region today, those threats do not respect borders. These are issues that cannot be addressed exclusively on a unilateral or bilateral basis; they have to be addressed multilaterally.”

The official described the region’s collective defense as a priority, pointing out air, missile, and drone threats from Iran or proxies that it backs.

The official said that the US hopes to help the integration of information sharing and how to address these threats jointly.

While previous meetings have resulted in joint statements and plenty of ink on paper, the official said this week’s talks would result in something more tangible.

“There will be talk about concrete actions that everyone needs to take, not just what the United States is going to do, but what our partners are also willing to put into the game for all of us to build out a concrete regional security architecture that delivers for all the citizens of the region,” the official said.

Previous efforts to establish a so-called Middle East NATO have so far failed to garner enough support to materialize, with some regional countries suggesting it would harm efforts to lower tensions with Iran.

Asked if there was a different attitude in the region towards integrated air and missile defenses, the US official said the nature and origin of the threats are clear.

“The origin of those threats, for the most part, ties back to Iran. Whether it’s proliferation of advanced conventional weapons, proliferation of attack drones, aggression at sea, or funding, arming, equipping, training, and directing proxies and terrorist forces on land,” the official said in response to a question from Al Arabiya English. “So what we are proposing here is a regional security architecture… It’s not something the United States is imposing.”

News source: Alarabiya News

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