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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

Omicron variant detected in more countries

The Galeao International airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazi. Photo: Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images

Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and South Korea on Wednesday became the latest countries to report cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. They followed similar announcements made in Brazil and Japan on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The arrival of the "variant of concern" in more countries underscores the difficulties governments are facing as they seek to reopen economies stalled by nearly two years of pandemic restrictions in the era of global air travel.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi sentenced to 4 years in prison

An anti-coup protest in Yangon, Myanmar.Photo: Hkun Lat/Getty Images

A Myanmar court sentenced the country's ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Monday to four years in prison on charges of "inciting public unrest" and breaking COVID-19 protocols, per the New York Times.

Why it matters: It's the first of several verdicts that could result in the 76-year-old Nobel laureate being imprisoned for the rest of her life. The 11 charges she faces have been widely criticised as politically motivated.

5 hours ago - World

Pope Francis denounces European governments' migrant response

Pope Francis adresses refugees at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on Sunday. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis criticized European countries' response to migrants and asylum seekers during his visit to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos Sunday.

Why it matters: The pope said "migration is a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone," but little had changed in the global response to displaced peoples since his first visit to Lesbos five years ago, per a transcript of his remarks. "Human lives, real people, are at stake. ... let us stop this shipwreck of civilization!"

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