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U.S. is ‘not going anywhere,’ as China and Saudi bolster ties


US President Joe Biden being welcomed by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at Alsalam Royal Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on July 15, 2022.

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U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday disputed claims that a forthcoming visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Saudi Arabia signals America’s waning influence within the Middle East, insisting that the U.S. is “not going anywhere.”

Tim Lenderking, U.S. special envoy for Yemen, said that diplomatic visits by other global powers were to be expected, but said that the U.S. had asserted its commitment to the region following a visit by Biden in July.

“The most important message that the president delivered to the region is that the USA will not be going anywhere,” Lenderking told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble.

Reports emerged Thursday that Xi is to reach in Saudi Arabia next week for a gathering with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the Chinese premier’s first official foreign visit since 2020 — as Beijing and Riyadh seek to consolidate ties. China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry and China’s Foreign Ministry weren’t immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC on Friday.

That Xi is anticipated to be met with all of the pomp and fanfare afforded to former U.S. President Donald Trump during his 2017 visit does little to enhance the optics of Biden’s visit, which was a low-key affair that critics say achieved little amid strained personal ties between the 2 leaders. Nonetheless, Lenderking insisted that the U.S. retains a “vital” presence.

“The USA is an important partner to not only Saudi Arabia but each of the countries within the region,” he said.

“America might be counted on to stay within the neighborhood as a support for the countries and their security. That’s an American priority,” he added.

Yemen conflict

Inside that, Yemen — which has been devastated by a civil war since 2014 — is a key U.S. focus, Lenderking said, whom Biden appointed as special envoy to the country last yr.

Lenderking said that making progress toward resolving the conflict had been a significant accomplishment for Biden during his visit last month. That included convincing Saudi Arabia to extend and strengthen a U.N.-mediated truce and interesting in talks to finish the war.

In consequence, the conflict is now halfway toward a resolution, Lenderking said.

Yemen has been battling civil war between the Yemeni government and the Houthi armed movement since 2014.

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“I feel we’re higher than 50%; I would not have said that six months ago,” he said. “We have got a moment to vary the course of the conflict. That is the time to do it.”

He added that Yemen is a crisis by which otherwise adversarial relationships might be ignored, and welcomed collaboration with China and Russia in that area.

China wants “to see progress in Yemen during their presidency on the Security Council,” Lenderking said, referring to Beijing’s current role as head of the United Nations Security Council.

“I feel that is a vital element where we are able to find commonality between us – China, Russia, the USA – working together on a political solution to the Yemen conflict,” he added.

Rising nuclear risks within the region

Lenderking also noted that Iran, with whom the U.S. shares a protracted history of fractured relations, could play a constructive role in resolving the conflict in Yemen. Nonetheless, he said that that was not a prerequisite for a resolution.

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It comes against the backdrop of continued talks between the united statesand Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.

Asked whether he believed it was possible to see nuclear weapons in countries corresponding to Iran and potentially other countries within the region, Lenderking replied: “I feel that might be unlucky. I hope that is not the case.”

Clarification: This text has been updated to make clear that Lenderking was asked whether he believed it was possible to see nuclear weapons in countries including Iran.

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