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Saudis confirm Netanyahu flew in for talks with crown prince on ties, Iran – WSJ

Sources in kingdom say PM flew in for several hours of discussions; no substantial agreements reached; Israel’s education minister hails ‘amazing achievement’

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

A Saudi government adviser confirmed that Riyadh’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks Sunday on Iran and normalization, but said no substantial agreements were reached, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

Two Saudi government advisers confirmed the trip by the Israeli leader to Saudi Arabia on Sunday night to the US paper. One of the sources said the meeting, which lasted several hours, focused on Iran and the establishment of diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Jerusalem, but did not yield substantial agreements.

Israel’s Education Minister Yoav Gallant also confirmed the trip, calling it “an amazing achievement.”

According to the Ynet news site, which quoted two officials involved in the talks, the Saudi crown prince did not object to the meeting being publicized.

The meeting was also attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency chief Yossi Cohen, an Israeli official told Hebrew-language media.

Pompeo earlier on Monday said he had held a “constructive” meeting with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince the night before, as he wrapped up a seven-nation tour that included stops in Israel and Gulf nations. He made no mention of the presence of the Israeli leader. Netanyahu’s office also had not confirmed the meeting as of Monday afternoon and the Saudi press had not made any mention of the talks.

(L to R) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, all mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, arrive for a press conference after their trilateral meeting in Jerusalem on November 18, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / POOL / AFP)

Pompeo traveled with an American press pool on his trip throughout the Mideast, but left them at the Neom airport when he went into his visit with the crown prince.

First reports of Netanyahu’s trip — the first known meeting between Israeli and Saudi leaders — came after Israeli journalists noticed that a private jet had made a rare trip between Tel Aviv and Neom on Sunday evening, sparking speculation of a high-level meeting.

A Gulfstream IV private jet took off just after 1740 GMT from Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv to Saudi Arabia’s Neom, according to data from website FlightRadar24.com. The flight traveled south along the eastern edge of the Sinai Peninsula before turning toward Neom and landing just after 1830 GMT, according to the data. The flight took off from Neom around 2150 GMT and followed the same route back to Tel Aviv.

While Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates have reached deals under the Trump administration to normalize ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia so far has remained out of reach.

US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid, left, and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, second from left, greet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan as they arrive at Neom Bay Airport in Neom, Saudi Arabia, November 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

In September, the kingdom approved the use of Saudi airspace for Israeli flights to the UAE, a decision announced the day after Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with Prince Mohammed in Riyadh. Bahrain normalizing ties also suggest at least a Saudi acquiescence to the idea, as the island kingdom relies on Riyadh.

Israel has long had clandestine ties to Gulf Arab states that have strengthened in recent years as they have confronted a shared threat in Iran.

The Trump administration has hoped Saudi Arabia would join the UAE and Bahrain in recognizing Israel and forging diplomatic ties, a move seen as increasingly distant in the wake of Joe Biden’s election as US president. But Saudi leaders have hitherto indicated that Israeli-Palestinian peace will have to come first.

“We have supported normalization with Israel for a long time, but one very important thing must happen first: a permanent and full peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians,” Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said on Sunday.

In late October, when Trump announced that Israel and Sudan would be making peace, he predicted that Saudi Arabia would soon follow. During a call with Netanyahu, Sudan Sovereign Council president General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, Trump brought reporters into the Oval Office, announced that “the State of Israel and the Republic of Sudan have agreed to make peace,” and told reporters there were another five countries “that want to come in.”

“We expect Saudi Arabia will be one of those countries,” Trump added, as he praised the country’s “highly respected” rulers King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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