Blinken begins Middle East tour, marks his first stop in Saudi Arabia

It would be Blinken’s sixth trip to the region since the Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, setting off the war in Gaza.

Jeddah: US State Secretary Antony Blinken who began his Middle East tour arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, marking his first stop on this trip to discuss efforts to reach an “immediate ceasefire agreement” between Israel and Hamas, The New York Times reported.

Blinken’s visit to Jeddah came as US President Joe Biden’s administration was hoping it could convince Saudi Arabia to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, a long-term objective that the US considers important to stabilizing the broader Middle East.

The US State Secretary was in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and will be in Egypt on Thursday to meet with each country’s leadership, according to the State Department.

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The department said separately that Blinken would be travelling to Israel, as well, for talks with the country’s “leadership” about efforts to secure the release of hostages held in Gaza and to “dramatically increase” humanitarian aid deliveries to the enclave.

During his visit, Blinken would “discuss the need to ensure the defeat of Hamas, including in Rafah, in a way that protects the civilian population, does not hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and advances Israel’s overall security,’ the State Department said.

It would be Blinken’s sixth trip to the region since the Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, setting off the war in Gaza.

However, there was no immediate confirmation from the Israeli government.

Earlier on Tuesday, Blinken told reporters in Manila that his discussions in the Middle East would include post-war plans for Gaza and the wider region, according to The New York Times.

He also said he would address “the right architecture for lasting regional peace,” an apparent reference to diplomacy among the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia to broker a joint agreement.

The pact would likely require Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in return for its first-ever formal diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

In turn, the Saudis want the US and Israel to support the creation of a civil nuclear program on Saudi soil, as well as greater military support from Washington, The New York Times reported.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and President Biden found common ground over exploring a potential deal in which Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel and establish diplomatic ties.

Notably, many Arab governments, including Saudi Arabia, have long refused to establish a diplomatic relationship with Israel before the creation of a Palestinian state.

Over the past decade, though, that calculus has shifted as the region’s authoritarian leaders have weighed negative public opinion toward a relationship with Israel against the economic and security benefits it could offer–and what they might obtain from the US in return.

US State Secretary Blinken’s trip comes as negotiators from Israel have joined officials from Egypt and Qatar to hold meetings in Doha, aimed at achieving a temporary cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and the release of hostages held by the Hamas group, according to The New York Times.

Blinken’s visit comes amid increasing odds between American and Israeli leaders over Israel’s approach to the war.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has brushed aside President Biden’s opposition to a planned ground invasion of Rafah, in southern Gaza, and said that his government would press ahead despite pleas for restraint from the US and other allies.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu, in a telephonic conversation with US President Biden, argued that a ground invasion could be disastrous for those sheltering in Rafah and that Israel had other ways of achieving its objective of defeating Hamas.

Moreover, the White House is expected to host an Israeli delegation early next week to discuss Israel’s plans for the invasion, and the issue will also be on Blinken’s agenda when he is in Israel.

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