US, Saudi ‘very close’ to bilateral deal, but it hinges on normalization aspect, which is further off

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan (R) receives US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretariat in Riyadh on April 29, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP)
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan (R) receives US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretariat in Riyadh on April 29, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP)

The United States and Saudi Arabia are “very close” to reaching a deal that would provide Riyadh with security assurances from Washington while moving the Gulf kingdom away from US rivals, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller says.

However, he clarifies that the deal hinges on a normalization component that would require Israel to agree to create a pathway for a future Palestinian state. “There is still more work to be done” on that aspect, Miller acknowledges. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed no interest in such concessions before October 7, and he has only doubled down on this stance since, saying that it would amount to a victory for Palestinian terror.

“We are very close to reaching an agreement on the bilateral pieces of the package between the United States and Saudi Arabia. There are a few details that we have to continue to work through, but we think we can reach agreement on those details in a very short order,” Miller says.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the diplomatic initiative with Arab counterparts when he was in Riyadh on Monday. “We were looking at not just a path to two states, but also the reconstruction of Gaza, governance of Gaza, security for Gaza. Some pieces are further along than others… We hope to make progress on that and have the agreements ready to put forward as soon as possible,” Miller says.

While the US could reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries regarding the terms of the regional diplomatic initiative to present to Israel, Riyadh has been clear that it will not sign off on the deal unless there is calm in Gaza and a path to an independent Palestinian state, Miller says.

“We might reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia on what this package will look like, but in terms of an actual deal that includes normalization with Israel, there needs to be calm in Gaza,” he says.

Asked why the US is putting so much effort into this initiative when Netanyahu is likely to reject it, Miller says the US believes the approach of regional integration is in Israel’s best interest because it would provide broader security for the Jewish state, isolate Iran in the region and provide Israel with partners to assist in the rebuilding of Gaza. “Ultimately, the government of Israel will have to make the choice about what’s in the best interest of their people.”

The State Department spokesperson denies reports that either the US or Saudi Arabia would support a deal that wouldn’t include the normalization component. “We have been very clear, Saudi Arabia has been very clear that this is a package deal that would include a bilateral component and also include a path to two states.”

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