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Saudi Arabia: Opening our airspace ‘nothing to do with diplomatic ties with Israel, not a precursor’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Saudi Arabia's Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud waits for the start of a round table meeting at the La Nuvola conference center for the G20 summit in Rome, October 30, 2021. (Andrew Medichini/AP)
Saudi Arabia's Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud waits for the start of a round table meeting at the La Nuvola conference center for the G20 summit in Rome, October 30, 2021. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Contradicting US President Joe Biden, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud says Riyadh’s decision to open its airspace for all civilian overflights has “nothing to do with diplomatic ties with Israel” and is “not in any way precursor to any further steps” toward normalization.

Al Saud appears to want to pour cold water over the declared expectations in Jerusalem and Washington that its decision, announced Thursday, to open its airspace to all civilian carriers — a move that will enable flights to and from Israel to China and India to take a far shorter and less costly route —  marks a first step toward formal relations with Israel.

“No, this has nothing to do with diplomatic ties with Israel,” the minister says in a press conference after the GCC+3 summit in Jeddah. “The issue of overflights is a decision we took based on our commitments… and also in the interest in providing connectivity between countries in the world, and we hope that it will make some travelers’ lives easier. It’s not in any way a precursor to any further steps.”

In a speech late Friday night after a pair of bilateral meetings with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Biden called the overflights decision by Riyadh “a big deal — not only symbolically but substantively.”

“This is the first tangible step on the path of what I hope will eventually be a broader normalization of relations” between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Biden added.

On Friday morning, similarly, Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid had welcomed the Saudi move “opening Saudi airspace to Israeli airlines” as “the first official step in normalization with Saudi Arabia.”

He added: “I thank the Saudi leadership for the opening of Saudi airspace. This is only the first step.”

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