Jun 8, 2023 - World

Blinken briefs Bibi on talks with MBS about possible Israel-Saudi normalization

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) meets with United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 07, 2023.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 7.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday and briefed him on his talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), including the possibility of Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel, according to a source familiar with the call.

Why it matters: The Biden administration wants to try and make a diplomatic push for a Saudi-Israeli peace deal in the next six to seven months before the presidential election campaign consumes President Biden’s agenda, as Axios reported two weeks ago.

  • Netanyahu wants to work with the Biden administration on trying to reach a peace agreement with the kingdom — an issue he has said publicly is a top priority for him.

Driving the news: Blinken met MBS on Tuesday night for more than two hours. A senior U.S. official said possible Israel-Saudi normalization was one of the issues discussed in the meeting.

  • Blinken called Netanyahu on Thursday when he was en route back to Washington from Riyadh. "Blinken briefed Netanyahu about the meeting with MBS and they talked about the path forward," a source familiar with the call said.

What they're saying: At a press conference with his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud on Thursday, Blinken said the U.S. "will continue to play an integral role in deepening and expanding normalization" between Israel and the Arab world.

  • Blinken said Saudi-Israeli normalization is a priority for the Biden administration "and we will continue to work at it, to advance it in the days, weeks, and months ahead."
  • The Saudi foreign minister said the kingdom believes that normalization is in the interest of the region and would bring significant benefits to all.
  • "But without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people, without addressing that challenge, any normalization will have limited benefits," he said.
  • The Saudi foreign minister added there is a need to find "a pathway towards a two-state solution" and a "pathway towards giving the Palestinians dignity and justice."

Between the lines: The use of the term "pathway" by the Saudi foreign minister was a slight change from the position the Saudis expressed in the past when they demanded the establishment of a Palestinian state as a condition for normalization with Israel.

The big picture: The Israeli readout of the call between Blinken and Netanyahu didn't mention Saudi Arabia, but focused on Israel's concerns regarding a possible "freeze for freeze" agreement between the U.S. and Iran.

  • "The Prime Minister stressed his position that a return to the 2015 nuclear deal will not stop Iran's nuclear program and that Israel will not be bound by any arrangement with Iran and will do everything to protect itself," the Israeli Prime Minister's Office said.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement that Blinken and Netanyahu "discussed areas of mutual interest, including expanding and deepening Israel’s integration into the Middle East through normalization with countries in the region."

  • Blinken "also discussed broader regional challenges, such as the threat posed by Iran, and underscored the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israel’s security and our 75-year-old partnership," Miller said.
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