Scoop: Senator Ernst to lead U.S. delegation to Saudi Arabia, meet MBS
Sen. Joni Ernst (R–Iowa) will travel to Saudi Arabia and Israel in the next few days heading a bipartisan congressional delegation, her office told Axios.
Why it matters: Ernst's trip to the Middle East comes amid a push by the White House to get a mega-deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel in the next few months before the presidential elections consume President Biden's agenda.
Driving the news: Ernst and her delegation will also visit Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. They are expected to meet with multiple heads of state, Ernst's office said.
- A source briefed on the trip said Ernst and the members of the delegation are expected to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. An Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to meet the delegation.
- Ernst, who is a co-chair of the Abraham Accords Caucus in Congress, is expected to encourage both leaders to move towards normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a source briefed on the trip said.
State of play: As part of the mega-deal talks, the White House is negotiating a potential security agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, possible U.S. support for a Saudi civilian nuclear program, and American approval for sophisticated weapons sales to the kingdom.
- Biden advisers are negotiating separately with Saudi, Israeli and Palestinian officials a possible peace agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel that could include Israeli concessions in the occupied West Bank.
The big picture: If a mega-deal is reached, some parts of it will likely have to be approved by the Senate. That means the Biden administration will need the support from both Republicans and Democrats — including those who are critical of the Saudi or Israeli governments, or both.
- A group of 20 Democratic senators sent a letter to Biden on Wednesday, raising concerns about a possible mega-deal with Saudi Arabia and calling on him to demand Israel make "meaningful and enforceable" concessions to the Palestinians as part of any such agreement.
Meanwhile, Ernst and many other Senate Republicans are very supportive of a deal and are likely to vote in favor of it in large numbers even if Biden were the one who had negotiated it.
What they're saying: "The historic Abraham Accords have already increased stability in the Middle East due to the once-impossible partnerships created and sustained by this agreement," Ernst told Axios.
- "This is just the beginning, and this trip provides the perfect opportunity to grow U.S. partnerships in the region."