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The crown princes of the UAE (left) and Saudi Arabia. Photo: Saudi handout via Getty

The Saudi government pressured the United Arab Emirates to back off a major solar energy deal with Israel and Jordan, two senior Israeli officials with direct knowledge and another source briefed on the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: The agreement signed on Monday and helped across the finish line by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is the biggest renewable energy project in the region. It will see the UAE build a massive solar farm in Jordan to supply electricity to Israel, and Israel in turn will build a desalination plant to provide water to Jordan.

  • The Saudis were caught by surprise when Axios broke the news of the forthcoming deal last Wednesday, the Israeli officials say.
  • All three sources say Saudi officials were upset because they felt the deal undermined Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plans to lead the region on climate through his "Green Middle East" vision.
  • Between the lines: The UAE and Israel were able to negotiate the deal due to the Abraham Accords, but the Saudis don't have diplomatic relations with Israel and were therefore were left out.

Behind the scenes: Senior Saudi officials called their Emirati counterparts to protest and push them to back off the deal. They even proposed an alternative Saudi-UAE-Jordan deal that would sideline Israel, a source briefed on the conversations tells me.

  • The Emiratis notified Kerry and their Israeli and Jordanian counterparts of the Saudi pressure and asked for cosmetic changes to the language of the agreement to appease the Saudis. The other parties didn’t object.
  • The signing of the agreement was delayed for several hours on Monday due to the Saudi intervention, the Israeli officials say. It was finally signed on Monday afternoon, with Kerry in attendance.

What they're saying: Four senior Israeli officials with direct involvement in the deal declined to comment on the record due to the sensitivity of the issue. Emirati officials also declined to comment. The Saudi Embassy in Washington hadn't provided a comment by the time of publication.

Go deeper

Jan 12, 2022 - World

Jordan seeks big aid package from Biden

Ayman Safadi. Photo: Mazen Mahdi/AFP via Getty

AMMAN, Jordan — With a big aid package granted by the Trump administration about to expire, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi has traveled to Washington seeking a new and improved deal.

Why it matters: Jordan is struggling with an economic crisis and is dependent on U.S. financial assistance, which totaled $1.65 billion in 2021. A five-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) that guarantees at least $1.25 billion in annual U.S. aid expires in September.

Jan 12, 2022 - World

Ahead of Iran deal decision, White House to "focus the fire on Trump"

Jen Psaki briefs the press as Jake Sullivan looks on. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

With the Iran nuclear talks reaching a critical moment, the White House plans to focus much of its public messaging in the coming weeks on attacking former President Donald Trump for leaving the 2015 deal, two sources briefed on the White House plans told me.

Why it matters: The Biden administration thinks it's now just a matter of weeks before the critical decision point: Either a deal will be reached and the U.S. will return to the nuclear deal or talks will break down and the administration will move to put more pressure on Iran, the sources said.

Updated Jan 14, 2022 - World

HRW criticizes Biden over "mixed signals" on human rights

Photo: Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Human Rights Watch criticized President Biden and other leaders of democratic nations for sending "mixed signals" on human rights in its annual World Report published on Thursday, saying they "are not meeting the challenges before them."

Why it matters: Though Biden pledged to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy, HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote that weapon sales to repressive governments and public reticence on certain human rights violations place those promises in question.

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