Pentagon press service informed on Thursday that due to scheduling problems, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to Saudi Arabia has been postponed indefinitely, adding he’ll reconsider the timing of the trip at the earliest opportunity, France24 reports.
Austin’s spokesman John Kirby offered no further explanation on Wednesday evening but said Austin’s visit was postponed at the Saudis’ request, without giving further details.
The trip to Saudi Arabia was part of the regional ‘thank you’ tour in the Gulf started last week following the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan to reaffirm the US strategic partnership with Middle East countries on bilateral level.
The aim of the tour of Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to reassure Gulf allies that President Biden’s decision to end the US presence in Afghanistan does not foretell an abandonment of US partners in the Middle East, where the US military is present for decades.
Austin has already visited Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait where he discussed with partners in the region the situation in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal from the country with Doha, Qatar being his first stop.
Along with Blinken, he visited there the main base for the massive airlift set up by the US out of Kabul that has evacuated more than 123,000 people, US citizens and Afghans who feared Taliban retribution.
They also met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad to discuss the development in Afghanistan and efforts to enhance the security in the country after the Taliban took over.
Austin then travelled to Kuwait on Wednesday to meet with the Kuwaiti Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and the Minister of Interior and thank them for their critical role in supporting the evacuations from Afghanistan and facilitating the safe transit of US citizens and evacuees.
His trip afterwards continued in Bahrain, where he praised the heroic work of the US Navy personnel stationed there during the Afghanistan evacuations. Bahrain is home of the Navy’s 5th Fleet headquarters and base.
Austin’s Saudi stop was to happen two days before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The attack has put Saudi Arabia under the spotlight since 15 of the men who hijacked the planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania were Saudis just like Osama bin Laden, who plotted the attack from its the al-Qaida network base in Afghanistan.