Blinken to Talk to Saudis About Normalizing Ties With Israel

Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken said Monday he plans to speak to Saudi leaders and other Gulf state officials this week during a visit to Saudi Arabia about the possibility of the kingdom normalizing relations with Israel. The Biden administration supports such a move, but it must not come at the expense of “progress between Israel and Palestine” and a two-state solution, he said.

“The United States has a real national security interest in promoting normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” said Mr. Blinken at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. “We believe we can and indeed we must play an integral role in moving it forward. Now, we have no illusions that this can be done quickly or easily.”

Mr. Blinken and other Biden aides are trying to grapple with politics in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States that will make normalization more difficult.

US officials must also deal with a move by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that could add to the strain on his relationship with President Biden and worsen congressional views of the kingdom. The increased tensions will hamper negotiations on the normalization conditions that Saudi Arabia demands.

Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it was cutting oil production by one million bpd for at least one month starting in July to try to drive up oil prices. That could exacerbate global inflation at a time when Mr. Biden is heading into an election year. Mr. Biden angered in October when Saudi Arabia led the OPEC+ oil-producing nation in coordinated production cuts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been widely criticized in Israel and the United States for proposals to hamper an independent judiciary, will get a political boost if Saudi Arabia normalizes relations with his country. But the right-wing coalition he leads has backed measures that critics say have fueled violence between Palestinians and Israelis, making it increasingly difficult for the Saudis to support normalization.

Mr Biden’s aides are trying to gauge whether Prince Mohammed’s condition is consistent with US security interests and will be approved by a skeptical Congress.

Saudi Arabia’s demands include security guarantees from Washington that would help deter potential attacks from Iran or its partners; US support for establishing a civilian nuclear power program in Saudi Arabia, which would include uranium enrichment in the kingdom; and more gun sales.

There is disagreement within the Biden administration as to meeting these requirements. And many Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans want to limit US support for Saudi Arabia. They criticize the kingdom’s human rights abuses and point to the mass killing of civilians in Yemen by the US-armed Saudi military and the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist, by Saudi agents.

Mr Blinken plans to hold meetings in Saudi Arabia from Tuesday to Thursday. Two White House officials, Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein, recently traveled to the region to discuss normalization with officials. So is Barbara Leaf, the State Department’s top Middle East official. But last week, he told US senators that “there is a lot of misreporting and a lot of hyperventilation in the media” about the potential for normalization, mainly based on leaks from Israeli officials.

Mr Blinken said Monday the State Department was creating a new position to “advance our diplomacy and engagement with governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, all working towards a more peaceful and more connected region to achieve significant historic progress to deepen and expand Abraham Accords, building on the work of the Trump administration.” The deal was a deal backed by the Trump administration that resulted in diplomatic normalization between Israel and several countries in the region.

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