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U.S. is ‘not going anywhere,’ Middle East envoy says, as China’s Xi expected to visit Saudi Arabia

The U.S. refuted claims that a forthcoming visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Saudi Arabia signals America’s waning influence in the Middle East.

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The United States on Friday denied that the upcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Saudi Arabia is evidence of the decline of American power in the region.

According to CNBC’s interview with Tim Lenderking, the special envoy for Yemen, the United States is a vital partner to not only Saudi Arabia but all of the countries in the region.

Just a month after Vice President Joe Biden’s controversial trip to Saudi Arabia, President Xi Jinping is scheduled to arrive there next week for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

On Friday, the administration of Vice President Joe Biden denied that the upcoming visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Saudi Arabia is evidence of America’s dwindling influence in the Middle East.

U.S. special envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking has stated that diplomatic visits from other global powers are to be expected, but that the United States has asserted its commitment to the region after Vice President Biden’s visit in July.

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Lenderking told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble, “the major message that the president brought to the region is that the United States is not going anywhere.”

Beijing and Riyadh are reportedly working to strengthen ties by having Chinese Premier Xi Jinping visit Saudi Arabia next week to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the premier’s first official foreign visit since 2020. On Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not confirm nor deny the reports.

CNBC attempted to reach the Saudi Arabian and Chinese foreign ministries on Friday, but neither responded immediately.

The fact that Xi is expected to be greeted with the same level of fanfare as former U.S. President Donald Trump was in 2017 does little to improve the optics of Biden’s visit, which was a low-key affair and achieved little, according to critics, amid strained personal ties between the two leaders. The United States, according to Lenderking, is still “vitally” present.

He emphasized that the United States is an important ally for all countries in the region, not just Saudi Arabia.

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“The United States’ continued presence in the region will be a reliable source of support for the security of the countries in the area. The United States of America places a high value on that, “I’ll add that, he said.

War in Yemen

Within that, Lenderking, who was appointed by Biden as special envoy to the war-ravaged country of Yemen last year, said that the United States is paying close attention.

According to Lenderking, Biden’s visit last month was successful in that progress was made toward resolving the conflict. The steps included negotiating an end to the war and convincing Saudi Arabia to maintain and strengthen a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations.

Lenderking claims that as a result, the war is halfway over.

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We’re doing better than half as well, he said, adding that he wouldn’t have said that six months ago. “We can now alter the outcome of the war. We are at the opportune moment.”

He then welcomed the opportunity to work with China and Russia on the issue of Yemen, arguing that the gravity of the situation there makes it possible to put aside the countries’ traditionally antagonistic relations.

He made reference to China’s current role as head of the United Nations Security Council, saying that Beijing “wants to see progress in Yemen during their presidency on the security council.”

He went on to say, “I think that’s important element where we can find commonality between us – China, Russia, the United States” in seeking a political resolution to the conflict in Yemen.

Nuclear dangers are on the rise in the region.

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Lenderking added that Iran, with whom the United States has had strained relations for a long time, could play a positive role in ending the fighting in Yemen. But he insisted that wasn’t necessary to find a solution.

This occurs as talks between the United States and Iran to revive a nuclear agreement from 2015 continue.

When Lenderking was asked if he thought countries like Iran and possibly others in the region could develop nuclear weapons, he said: “As for me, that’s a pretty bad scenario. If that’s the case, I really hope it isn’t.”

Lenderking was asked if he thought countries like Iran could develop nuclear weapons, so the article has been updated to reflect this.

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