CHICAGO: US State Department officials have praised America’s continuing relationship with Saudi Arabia and said the UAE accords with Israel have included benefits such as space exploration and research.
David Schenker, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said that he held high-level meetings with officials in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Lebanon and Morocco to strengthen the region’s resolve against terrorism, and in building economies and implementing human rights.
Schenker showcased America’s close ties to Saudi Arabia, which he said began during meetings 75 years ago between King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud and President Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy in Great Bitter Lake, Egypt on Feb. 14, 1945.
“Today, we have nearly $40 billion in two-trade annually supporting roughly 165,000 American jobs. We not only have important cooperation on counter terrorism, defeating Daesh and countering Iran’s destabilizating of the region, we have 37,000 Saudi students enrolled in US schools, the fourth highest from across the world,” Schenker said.
“When you look at where we are headed in the coming decades, through this dialogue we will enhance traditional areas of cooperation like defense, security, energy and trade, but also help Saudi Arabia to realize its 2030 goals to transform its society and diversify its economy. We will continue to engage Saudi Arabia on the advance of its human rights reforms including integrating women into its economic goals and empowering youth.”
Schenker said that the US was moving forward with building a new embassy in Riyadh.
“Preparations are underway to acquire a site for a new embassy in Riyadh, which along with new contracts with Jeddah and Dhahran represent an investment of more than $1 billion,” he said.
“We have the 26-acre-site picked out and a target completion date of 2026 for the new embassy.”
The key focus of discussions includes pursuing continued improvements in policymaking, defense and security, law enforcement, intelligence, counter terrorism, economic, energy and commerce, culture and education, space programs and human rights.
Schenker also painted an increasingly optimistic scenario in relations with the UAE, which recently signed the “Abraham Accords” peace agreement with Israel.
“As with our dialogue with Saudi Arabia, we are not only building on our traditional areas of engagement like our defense security and counter terrorism cooperation, educational, cultural exchanges, we are expanding to newer areas of cooperation,” Schenker said during his 45-minute press briefing
“Take for example our cooperation on space programs. In the past two years we have worked with the UAE and NASA to expand cooperation on space exploration and space-related research. And now our partnership on outer-space activities will be a common feature of our bilateral dialogue.”
Schenker said that the UAE last week joined the US and six other nations in signing the 1967 Artemis Accords, which define a shared vision of space exploration.
“That is an initiative for like-minded nations to explore the extension of human activities to the moon and onwards to Mars,” Schenker said.
But Schenker cautioned against reading too much into the negotiations the US is supporting between Israel and Lebanon over maritime rights, which have been taking place during the past few months.
Negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to achieve a Maritime Agreement, Schenker said, will not change the administration’s policy to continue to pursue reforms, end Lebanese government corruption and end Hezbollah and Iranian terrorism.
“There is no deal here. There is nothing to read into. The United States will continue to pursue sanctions against Hezbollah and its Lebanese allies,” Schenker said.
“The US will continue to pursue sanctions through the Global Magnitsky Act against those who are engaged in gross human rights abuses and corruption. So, there is no deal here. These will continue regardless of the maritime talks. Regardless of the government formation.”
The Magnitsky Act is a bipartisan law adopted in 2012 targeting Russian violence and corruption but that also authorizes the US government to sanction those who it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets and ban them from entering the US.
“I underscored the importance of implementing reforms to meet the demands of the Lebanese people,” Schenker said of his talks with Lebanese leaders on the formation of a new government.
“As we have repeatedly stated, business as usual is unacceptable and whatever government comes next must commit to and have the ability to implement reforms that can lead to economic opportunity, better governments and an end to endemic government corruption.”
Schenker said that he spent a full day discussing the maritime agreement talks but two days listening to and meeting “the people of Lebanon.”