CIA Chief Traveled for Secret Meeting With Saudi Crown Prince Last Month, WSJ Reports

The Wall Street Journal report quotes a U.S. official describing the meeting as having a 'better tone' than past engagements, with bilateral ties having deteriorated since the Biden administration assumed power

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington
CIA Director William Burns looks on during a U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on "Worldwide Threats" in March, Washington D.C.
CIA Director William Burns looks on during a U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on "Worldwide Threats" in March, Washington D.C.Credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN / REUTERS
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington

WASHINGTON – Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns reportedly made a secret trip to Saudi Arabia in April to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The report of Burns' visit to the coastal city of Jeddah comes as the U.S. finds itself at an inflection point with Riyadh, with ties between the two countries having deteriorated since the Biden administration assumed power.

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The Wall Street Journal report quotes a U.S. official describing Burns' meeting with MBS as "a good conversation, better tone than prior U.S. government engagements."

The still-lukewarm U.S.-Saudi relationship has also been a point of differentiation between Israel and the Democratic Party. The Biden administration has wanted to repair ties with Riyadh amid the ongoing Iran nuclear deal talks and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, hoping the Saudis would significantly increase oil production to quell soaring prices amid Russian sanctions and domestic inflation.

FILE: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session of the Shura Council in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2019.Credit: Handout ./ REUTERS

Israeli officials are concerned that stalled reconciliation would lead to a power vacuum in the Middle East where Iran would supplant the U.S. and Saudi Arabia would align itself with China and Russia. Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, hope Biden will continue to recalibrate the U.S.-Saudi relationship due to the Saudi royal family's autocracy and poor human rights record.

The report comes a day after senior Saudi royal Prince Turki al-Faisal said Riyadh feels "let down" by the U.S. in tackling security threats to the kingdom and regional security by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

A CIA spokesperson declined to comment to the Journal on Burns' travels and Saudi authorities did not respond to the Journal's request for comment.

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