Aug 11, 2023 - World

Scoop: Bibi sending top confidant to D.C. for talks on Biden's Saudi mega-deal push

Ron Dermer on Nov. 6, 2021. Photo: Bridget Bennett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ron Dermer on Nov. 6, 2021. Photo: Bridget Bennett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is sending his closest confidant to Washington next week for talks at the White House about the Biden administration's push for a mega-deal with Saudi Arabia that could include a Saudi-Israel normalization agreement, according to three Israeli and U.S. officials.

Why it matters: U.S. officials have previously told Axios that the administration wants to try to complete its diplomatic initiative with Saudi Arabia before the presidential election campaign consumes President Biden's agenda.

Details: Ron Dermer, the Israeli minister for strategic affairs, is expected to arrive in Washington next week and hold meetings at the White House on Aug. 17, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

  • Dermer is expected to meet White House National Security adviser Jake Sullivan, as well as Biden's senior Middle East adviser Brett McGurk and senior adviser for energy Amos Hochstein. The three are the key U.S. officials leading the Saudi Arabia diplomatic push.
  • The White House officials have visited Saudi Arabia twice in the last two weeks and are expected to brief Dermer on their talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Behind the scenes: In his call with President Biden last month, Netanyahu said he wants to send Dermer to Washington to present a plan to reach a possible security agreement between the U.S. and Israel.

  • Israeli officials said Netanyahu and Dermer want this security agreement to be focused on deterring Iran in the context of the mega-deal the Biden administration is trying to reach with Saudi Arabia and Israel.
  • Israeli officials told Axios the possible security agreement will be one of the main issues Dermer is expected to discuss with Sullivan, McGurk and Hochstein.
  • The Israeli Prime Minister's Office declined to comment, but a senior Israeli official confirmed Dermer is traveling to Washington to hold talks as part of the ongoing dialogue with the Biden administration.
  • A senior White House official said Dermer's trip "is a routine engagement on a broad spectrum of issues."

The big picture: Dermer and White House officials are also expected to discuss the negotiations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia on a possible civilian nuclear program with uranium enrichment on Saudi soil, Israeli officials said.

  • Several current and former senior Israeli security officials have said publicly and privately that they are very concerned about this component of the possible U.S.-Saudi deal and warned it could harm Israel's security interests.
  • Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid told a congressional delegation led by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) earlier this week that he is against any deal that will allow Saudi Arabia to enrich uranium, Israel's Channel 13 reported.
Go deeper