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Saudi crown prince, Biden aide discuss 'semi-final' security deal

By AFP

May 19, 2024 03:28 PM


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Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler and a top aide to US President Joe Biden have discussed a "semi-final" version of a deal expected to beef up security ties, Saudi state media reported on Sunday.

The meeting between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security advisor, took place in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

Sullivan arrived in Israel later on Sunday for talks about the war in Gaza.

"The semi-final version of the draft strategic agreements between the Kingdom and the United States of America, which are almost being finalised... were discussed," SPA said.

The meeting also covered "what is being worked on between the two sides on the Palestinian issue to find a credible path towards a two-state solution", as well as attempts to stop the war in Gaza and facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid there.

The Biden administration has aggressively pursued a so-called mega-deal in which Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest shrines in Islam, would recognise Israel for the first time in exchange for benefits from Washington including a defence pact and assistance with a civilian nuclear programme with uranium enrichment capacity.

Last September, before Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel that sparked the war in Gaza, Prince Mohammed said in an interview with the US network Fox News that "every day we get closer" to a deal to normalise ties.

But those efforts have been severely damaged by the more than seven months of fighting in Gaza and the rising civilian toll there.

The October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

 

- Talks continue -

 

Since the outbreak of the war, Saudi officials have said that relations with Israel are impossible without steps towards recognising a Palestinian state, something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long opposed.

It is unclear whether Riyadh and Washington will move forward with their agreements, as Saudi Arabia and Israel have not reached a normalisation agreement, according to analysts.

High-level talks about what Saudi Arabia wants from the United States have continued.

During US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's last visit to Riyadh in April, he and his Saudi counterpart said that a final agreement on the US-Saudi component of the deal was close.

Yet Sullivan told a Financial Times conference in London this month that any deal would need to include the normalisation component.

Sunday's statement from Saudi Arabia "seems to be implying that negotiations, even on the bilateral side of this deal, are still ongoing," said Anna Jacobs, senior Gulf analyst for the International Crisis Group.

"This might suggest that the Saudis are still trying to find a way to secure a smaller bilateral deal with the US that would exclude normalisation with Israel at this stage, despite Sullivan himself saying there would be no deal without Israel."


AFP


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