May 26, 2022

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Ukraine war having 'deadly' impact on Arab region, says Blinken

Ukraine war having ‘deadly’ impact on Arab region, says Blinken

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having a “deadly” impact and threatening security in the Arab world, particularly through spiralling wheat prices, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Algiers Wednesday.

He was speaking on the final leg of a trip that began with an unprecedented summit in an Israeli kibbutz, attended by Blinken and the foreign ministers of Egypt, the Jewish state and three Arab countries that normalised ties with it in 2020.

Addressing journalists in Algiers, he said that while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seemed distant, it has already had “deadly consequences for citizens in the region”.

“It’s having a direct impact on their lives right now, particularly with regard to rising food prices… especially wheat,” he said.

This poses “grave threats to security” in Arab countries, he added.

North African nations are heavily dependent on wheat imports and Blinken earlier said they were facing “disaster” over the massive shock the war dealt to already tight supplies.

Both Russia and Ukraine are major wheat producers, and Moscow also exports vast amounts of oil and gas.

Blinken said there was “a clear aggressor and a clear victim” in the Ukraine conflict.

“It’s important to stand with the victim and to stand for the principles that have also been violated,” he said.

Blinken met Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune after holding talks with Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra.

It was his first visit as top US diplomat to the North African country, a Moscow ally and a major gas producer that has faced calls to boost exports to Europe after prices soared.

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But Blinken made no mention of that subject during a press conference after his meetings on Wednesday.

Soured Algeria ties
The top US diplomat had flown in on Wednesday morning from Algeria’s arch-rival Morocco, which in 2020 normalised ties with Israel under a deal that sparked renewed tensions between Algiers and Rabat over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Relations between Washington and Algiers had also soured as a result of Morocco’s normalisation deal, brokered under then-president Donald Trump.

As a quid pro quo for normalisation, the Trump administration recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a phosphate-rich desert territory where Algeria has long backed the Polisario independence movement.

In Rabat on Tuesday, Blinken had voiced support for a Moroccan autonomy plan for the Western Sahara, which he described as “serious, credible and realistic”.

In Algiers on Wednesday, he refrained from mentioning the Moroccan plan, instead voicing Washington’s support for United Nations mediation.

“We’re very focused on diplomacy and on advancing a resolution through diplomacy,” he said, insisting that there had been “no changes” in Washington’s position.

US ‘values’ UAE ties

Officials in Algeria, a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause, have voiced concerns over Morocco’s normalisation with Israel, particularly over the possibility their rival could access advanced Israeli military technology.

Bahrain and the UAE were the other countries to establish formal ties with Israel in the last months of the Trump administration.

Blinken said on Wednesday that he hoped that the “real practical benefits” to normalisation would encourage other Arab nations to follow suit.

But he re-emphasised that the normalisation process was “not a substitute for dealing with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians” and reaching a two-state solution.

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The Palestinians have described the 2020 deals, which broke with decades of Arab consensus that Israel should not be recognised in the absence of a peace deal creating a Palestinian state, as a stab in the back.

Israel was keen to cast its summit, attended by the foreign ministers of Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, as an alliance of powers against its arch-foe Iran.

Israel is fighting a regional shadow war against Iran and accuses it of seeking a nuclear bomb, something Tehran denies.

The summit in Israel came after the UAE has come under cross-border missile and drone attack from Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

Blinken said Wednesday that during talks the day before with the UAE’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Zayed he expressed Washington’s strong support.

“One of the things I made very clear to him is the value that we attach to that partnership,” he said.