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Scoop: Blinken planning trip to Saudi Arabia and UAE

Barak Ravid, author of Axios from Tel Aviv

Secretary of State Tony Blinken is planning a possible trip to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the occupied West Bank later this month, according to five U.S., Israeli and Palestinian sources.

Why it matters: This would be Blinken’s first trip as secretary of state to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It comes at a time of tensions between the Biden administration and two Gulf allies as it pushes them to increase oil production.

Behind the scenes: The State Department has been working on coordinating the visit with the Israelis, Palestinians, Emiratis and Saudis for more than a week, three of the sources said.

  • Blinken updated Lapid about the planned visit when they met in Riga, Latvia, 10 days ago, a senior Israeli official told me, but the schedule has changed several times since then.
  • The trip could happen either immediately before or after Blinken joins Biden at the NATO leaders summit in Brussels on March 24.
  • Yes, but: The U.S. and Israeli sources cautioned that events in Ukraine could influence the timing of the trip or lead to its cancellation.

State of play: After calling Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) a “pariah” during the campaign and keeping his distance early in his presidency, Biden now wants to convince MBS to increase oil production to stem the price spikes resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

  • The Saudis have thus far refused and instead stuck to an agreement on production levels struck last year with Russia. According to the WSJ, MBS declined to take a phone call from Biden about oil production.
  • A former U.S. official briefed on the situation tells Axios that MBS passed a message to the White House referencing the fact that Biden had previously said his counterpart was not the crown prince but the king, and suggested he, therefore, call him.
  • When King Salman took the call from Biden, MBS made sure his talking points didn’t include an agreement to increase oil production, according to the former official.

The other side: Relations with the UAE are also strained over what the Emiratis saw as an insufficient U.S. response to the Houthi missile attack on Abu Dhabi in January.

What they are saying: “While we have no travel to preview, the secretary firmly believes in the importance of our decades-long partnerships in the Middle East and our shared commitment to a peaceful, secure and prosperous region,” a State Department spokesperson said.

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