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Saudi Arabia Welcomes Venezuelan Dictator Nicolas Maduro on Eve of Blinken Visit

Saudi Arabia Welcomes Venezuelan Dictator Nicolas Maduro on Eve of Blinken Visit

Socialist Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro became the latest anti-American leader to forge ties with Saudi Arabia, receiving a warm welcome on Monday from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah the day before American Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to arrive there. Maduro traveled to Saudi Arabia after visiting Turkey for the inauguration of one of his closest allies, Islamist Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who “won” reelection in a violent, unfair vote against the secular opposition on May 28. Maduro positioned his impoverished socialist country as an ally of Islamist causes, establishing the former oil giant as one of Iran’s closest allies and making appearances at anti-Israel and anti-American events in the Middle East. For years following the imposition of strict sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry during the presidency of Donald Trump, reports accused Iran of aiding the Maduro regime by illicitly transporting Venezuelan oil and cutting deals to revamp oil refineries in the Latin American country that have decayed under socialism. Prior to Maduro and his mentor, late dictator Hugo Chávez, seizing the country, the OPEC nation was one of the world’s most formidable oil powers. Caracas’s ties to Tehran have largely precluded a relationship with Saudi Arabia, for most of the past two decades Iran’s bitterest geopolitical rival. Saudi Arabia and Venezuela maintain embassies in each other’s countries, but have no significant trade volume and rarely interact at global venues such as the United Nations. Maduro had not visited the country since 2016. File/Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (L) meets King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) at Al-Yamama palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 23, 2016. (Pool / Bandar Algaloud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) Maduro’s visit to Jeddah follows Saudi leaders’ multiple moves to improve relations with America’s enemies generally and an agreement to restore friendly ties with Iran, mediated by communist China, in March specifically. Riyadh brokered that deal after a near-collapse in Saudi-American relations prompted by leftist President Joe Biden announcing as a candidate in 2020 that he would turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” nation over the brutal killing of Islamist Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi embassy in Turkey. Biden visited Jeddah last summer for an awkward meeting with Saudi leaders that led to reports of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman mocking his “mental acuity” and ultimately cutting Saudi oil production, contrary to the requests of the Biden administration. According to the Saudi Press Agency, Maduro met with Mohammed bin Salman on Monday to discuss “bilateral relations, prospects for cooperation and opportunities to enhance them in various fields.” The Saudi government claimed the two leaders discussed “issues of common interest,” without elaborating. Maduro also reportedly met with Saudi Arabia’s ministers of energy, sports, the national guard, foreign affairs, and the economy. 📹 | HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with the President of Venezuela @NicolasMaduro. 🇸🇻 — Foreign Ministry 🇸 (@KSAmofaEN) June 5, 2023 VTV, socialist Venezuela’s state propaganda television station, described the encounter between Maduro and the crown prince as a “working meeting ... to give impulse to commercial exchanges.” VTV claimed part of the discussions was specifically how Saudi Arabia could help Venezuela “overcome the effects of the American administration’s blockade [sanctions].” It also credited Maduro with seeking closer “political, diplomatic, cultural, and economic” ties with Saudi Arabia. Maduro himself posted photos online shaking hands with the crown prince, a much warmer greeting than the “fist bump” Mohammed bin Salman used with Biden. “We arrived at the Royal Palace in Jeddah of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to develop a working agenda seeking to consolidate the relations we maintain with this friendly country,” Maduro wrote. “Venezuela is firm in unity and the construction of a new world.” Llegamos al Palacio Real de Jeddah del Reino de Arabia Saudita para desarrollar una agenda de trabajo que busca consolidar las relaciones que mantenemos con este país amigo. Venezuela firme en la unión y construcción del nuevo mundo. — Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) June 6, 2023 The Saudi Foreign Ministry similarly shared images of the meeting, describing it in slightly less specific and glowing terms as the Venezuelans. #Jeddah | HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with the President of Venezuela @NicolasMaduro.

They reviewed bilateral relations, prospects for cooperation and opportunities to strengthen it in various fields, and exchanged views on a number of topics of common interest. 🇸🇻 — Foreign Ministry 🇸 (@KSAmofaEN) June 5, 2023 Alleged Saudi interest in undoing the damage of sanctions on the socialist regime would be a direct challenge to American foreign policy.

The Trump administration expanded sanctions on the Maduro regime to impact the nation’s formerly lucrative oil industry. Socialist Venezuela is one of the world’s worst human rights abusers; extensive evidence, admitted even by the socialist-friendly United Nations, shows the regime using torture, rape, beatings, and killings to silence political dissidents. Maduro’s regime regularly killed children at the peak of abuses in the late 2010s.

The Maduro regime also stands accused of narco-terrorism: funding its elite class with drug trafficking and ties to regional Marxist terrorist organizations.

The United States announced it is offering a $15 million reward for information leading to Maduro’s arrest in 2020.

The Biden administration has softened its approach to Venezuela, in part in response to Saudi Arabia’s oil policy.

The White House confirmed in October last year that it had attempted to convince the Saudis to back increases in oil production at OPEC+, a coalition featuring cartel members and non-OPEC countries such as Russia. That oil increase would have occurred shortly before the American midterm elections, resulting in lower gas prices for voters. Instead of increasing production, the Saudi government backed a massive production cut of 2 million barrels per day (bpd). In November, the Biden-led Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) granted a license to the oil company Chevron to import and export oil from Venezuela, undoing critical sanctions on the abusive regime. Blinken is scheduled to follow up Maduro’s act in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. According to the State Department, the top diplomat will be in the country from Tuesday through Thursday to discuss “U.S.-Saudi strategic cooperation on regional and global issues and a range of bilateral issues including economic and security cooperation.” He will also reportedly meet with other Mideast diplomats through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and attend a meeting of the “Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS” to “address the continuing threat of ISIS.” The Islamic State is currently most heavily active in southern Africa. Prior to his departure, Blinken told the organization AIPAC that he was enthusiastic about convincing Saudi Arabia to establish ties with neighboring Israel, a potential expansion of the Trump-era “Abraham Accords” that resulted in the unprecedented normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “The United States has a real national security interest in promoting normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Blinken said, complimenting the Trump-era diplomacy. “We will soon create a new position to further our diplomacy and engagement with governments and private sector, non-governmental organizations, all working toward a more peaceful and a more connected region,” he continued. “We’ve already achieved historic progress to deepen and broaden the Abraham Accords, building on the work of the Trump administration.” The State Department has not commented at press time on whether Blinken will discuss Saudi Arabia’s overtures to Venezuela on his trip. Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter. .

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