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CIA director visited Saudi Arabia, aired 'frustration' over Iran, Syria thaw

The CIA director met the country's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and reportedly expressed displeasure with Washington being "blindsided" over agreements brokered by China and Russia.
CIA Director William Burns testifies during a House Select Committee on Intelligence hearing concerning worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill March 9, 2023 in Washington, DC. The leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies testified on a wide range of issues, including China, Russia, Covid-19 origins, and TikTok. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

CIA Director Bill Burns made an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia this week where he reportedly aired Washington's frustrations over Riyadh's opening to Iran and Syria through mediation brokered by US rivals China and Russia. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a US official confirmed the trip to Al-Monitor. “Director Burns traveled to Saudi Arabia where he met with intelligence counterparts and country leaders on issues of shared interest," the US official said.

The official did not disclose the exact day of the trip but said that Burns discussed intelligence cooperation, especially in the area of counterterrorism. The CIA director met the country's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. 

The report revealed that the US spy chief expressed displeasure over Riyadh's ongoing rapprochement with both Tehran and Damascus. 

"Burns expressed frustration with the Saudis, according to people familiar with the matter. He told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the US has felt blindsided by Riyadh’s rapprochement with Iran and Syria," the WSJ said. 

Saudi Arabia has agreed to restore diplomatic ties with Iran in a deal brokered by China last month. On Thursday in Beijing, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and agreed to reinstate consulates and embassies as well as flights between the two countries. 

On Syria, Russia is mediating between Riyadh and Damascus in an attempt to restore consular ties that broke off in 2011 following Syrian President Bashar al-Assad brutal crackdown on protests. Saudi Arabia is mulling an invite to Assad to the Arab League summit that Riyadh will host next month. 

The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Oman, Algeria and Jordan have all resumed diplomatic ties with Assad, whose government remains under heavy US sanctions.

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