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Biden aide raises Israel normalization in meet with Saudi crown prince — report

Mohammed bin Salman doesn’t dismiss proposal raised by US national security adviser, but gives list of steps Riyadh would expect in return, including warming of ties with US

In this November 22, 2020 photo, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a virtual G-20 summit held over video conferencing, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)
In this November 22, 2020 photo, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a virtual G-20 summit held over video conferencing, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan reportedly raised the notion of Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel during a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month in the Red Sea city of Neom.

Bin Salman did not reject the proposal out of hand, according to a Wednesday report that cited three US and Arab sources.

The Saudi crown prince in turn presented US officials with a list of steps that would have to take place before such a normalization agreement could move forward, the report said. Those steps included an improvement in bilateral US-Saudi relations after ties cooled since the election of US President Joe Biden, who has been more critical of Riyadh’s human rights record.

Such an agreement would also likely require significant steps by Israel vis a vis the Palestinians, the report noted. Riyadh has long stated that it would not normalize with Israel until after the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is solved and a Palestinian state is established based on the pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Given the Sunni Gulf kingdom’s significant influence in the region, supporters of normalization believe it would initiate a domino effect with other countries following suit and dramatically shifting power dynamics in the Middle East against the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran. However, some analysts note Riyadh’s recent efforts to warm ties with Iran and Qatar as a signal that Saudi Arabia is heading in a different direction — one that does not include forging diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Israel signed normalization agreements last year with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco and is working to close such a deal with Sudan. The Saudis were said to have given a behind-the-scenes green light to the UAE forging ties with Israel and have since allowed Israeli aircrafts to use its airspace for direct flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Following his visit to Neom, Sullivan returned home to Washington and hosted his Israeli counterpart, Eyal Hulata, for talks centered on Iran, but also about strengthening and expanding the Abraham Accords.

Last week, Blinken held a public meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in Washington. The State Department did not mention Israel in its readout of the meeting, but said that “US-Saudi strategic cooperation on regional issues” was discussed, along with “other regional and broader issues.”

(From left to right): Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan at a press conference in Washington, DC on October 13, 2021. (GPO)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has held a series of meetings recently with US and UAE officials to discuss the Abraham Accords. On Tuesday, Lapid met virtually with Blinken, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. According to the State Department, Blinken “reiterated the Biden administration’s support for the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements and discussed future opportunities for collaboration in the region and globally.”

And last week, Lapid was in DC for talks with US officials that largely focused on Iran, but also included an in-person meeting with Blinken and bin Zayed to discuss boosting the Abraham Accords and Israel-UAE ties.

According to the report, senior White House officials told a conference call of Jewish leaders last week that several other countries are open to normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel, and that the US is “quietly” engaging with them on the issue.

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