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Arabs tired of US zero-sum games: Experts

By Jan Yumul in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2023-06-12 10:47

Growing rapprochement in the Middle East indicates potential positive change

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan attend multilateral meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 8, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Defiance by Arab countries of the United States' objection to any efforts of theirs to normalize relations with Syria shows that US-led zero-sum tactics are no longer sustainable for a war-fatigued region, analysts say.

They also said recent developments such as a growing rapprochement in the Middle East and China's efforts in pushing for dialogue to resolve Palestine issues indicate "a potential trajectory of change".

At a joint news conference in Riyadh with the visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, said it was important to understand the context of the Arab League's decision to normalize ties with Syria.

"The context is that the status quo was not working and was generating an ever-increasing burden on countries of the region and on the people of Syria regardless of what one thinks of (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad."

He reiterated that the only way to resolve humanitarian challenges faced in the aftermath of the Syrian crisis was to find pathways to tackle the issues, and from a humanitarian perspective.

Syria was reinstated to the Arab League on May 7, ending more than 10 years of isolation from 2011.

The main concerns now, Faisal said, are: "How do we ensure that there is safe pathway for refugees to return? How do we ensure that there is some political reconciliation? How do we address the issue of drugs?" All of these "require a dialogue with Damascus", he said.

Region's interest

Faisal reiterated that Israeli "normalization (with Saudi Arabia) is in the interest of the region" and "would bring significant benefits to all", but without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people, any normalization "will have limited benefits".

Blinken was in Saudi Arabia from Tuesday to Thursday to meet Saudi officials, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, to discuss US-Saudi collaboration and to attend the US-Gulf Cooperation Council Ministerial meeting and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

However, the purpose of his visit was widely seen by analysts as an attempt to repair strained relations between Washington and Riyadh over previous disagreements between the two countries on issues such as Iran, regional security, oil prices and normalization of relations with Syria.

Blinken has said the US does not support normalization of any country's ties with Syria, but on the other hand that it supports all contributions by any country to advance peace in the region.

This was also the first visit of a top US official to the Gulf nation following the China-brokered resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March.

Gokhan Ereli, Gulf Studies coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, in Turkiye, said Blinken's visit to Saudi Arabia serves as "a tangible manifestation of the US' ardent endeavor to rectify and mend the frayed fabric of bilateral relations".

"Against the backdrop of mounting global inflationary pressures and the looming specter of recession in the Western world, the United States was compelled to approach Saudi Arabia willingly."

Also at the news conference, Faisal said he "does not ascribe to a zero-sum game", referring to Saudi Arabia's relationships with Washington and Beijing.

Arhama Siddiqa, a Middle East analyst and research fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad in Pakistan, told China Daily that Arab countries, faced with various challenges such as the pandemic, oil disputes and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, have become war-fatigued and given priority to their economic visions.

She said the shift has allowed the Arab nations "to assert themselves more confidently" with China emerging as a willing partner.


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