Saudi crown prince and US national security Adviser Sullivan in bilateral, Gaza talks

Washington and Riyadh have been discussing US security guarantees and civilian nuclear assistance as part of a broader deal

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan travelled to Saudi Arabia to discuss efforts to end Israel's war in Gaza. AFP
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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met on Sunday to discuss a broad bilateral agreement and Israel's war in Gaza, the Saudi state news agency reported.

Mr Sullivan later arrived in Israel as part of his Middle East tour and, according to sources, was expected to travel on to Egypt on Monday.

The meeting between Mr Sullivan and the Saudi crown prince in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran reviewed "the semi-final version of the draft strategic agreements between the two countries, which are almost being finalised," a statement read.

Mr Sullivan's regional tour coincided with Iran's confirmation that it had held indirect talks with the United States in Oman. Tehran and Washington have sharply been at odds with tensions centred on Iran's contested nuclear programme and more recently heightened by the Gaza war between their respective allies, Israel and Hamas.

On Friday, American news website Axios reported that US and Iranian officials held indirect talks in Oman "on how to avoid escalating regional attacks".

The official IRNA news agency said late Saturday that the country's representative to the UN confirmed indirect negotiations between Iran and the United States in Oman.

It quoted him as saying that "these negotiations were not the first and will not be the last". He did not give the time and venue of the talks.

On a separate track, the US and Saudi Arabia have for months been discussing a potential deal that would include the normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The deal is thought to potentially include US security guarantees and assistance to Saudi Arabia to develop a civilian nuclear programme.

But amid the continuing war in Gaza, Saudi officials have said relations with Israel would be impossible without steps towards recognising a Palestinian state, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long opposed.

The Saudi Crown Prince and President Joe Biden's top security adviser also discussed on Sunday the need to find a "credible track for bringing about the two-state solution" for Israel and the Palestinians, stop the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and enable the entry of more humanitarian aid into the coastal enclave, the statement said.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, is seeking to generate substantial renewable energy and reduce emissions under an ambitious long-term plan.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that America was almost ready with a security package to offer Saudi Arabia if it normalises relations with Israel, as he sought incentives for the Israelis to support a Palestinian state.

Mr Blinken was visiting Riyadh on his seventh trip to the region since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which has responded with a relentless offensive in Gaza that has drawn global criticism.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, who met Mr Blinken in Riyadh, also said US-Saudi agreements were “very, very close” and “most of the work has already been done”.

But Riyadh has repeatedly insisted tangible and irreversible steps towards establishing a Palestinian state would be an essential component of any agreement to recognise Israel.

In Cairo, Mr Sullivan was expected to discuss with top officials the resumption of Egypt's mediation to reach a ceasefire in Gaza as well as the tension in Egyptian-Israeli relations, sources told The National. There has been no announcement in Washington that Mr Sullivan was visiting Egypt.

Egypt, the US and Qatar have for months been trying without success to broker a Gaza ceasefire and a prisoner and hostage swap between Israel and Hamas. Their efforts reached a dead-end this month, when Israel rejected Hamas's demands for a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire.

Egypt's relations with Israel, meanwhile, have plunged to a new low when the Israeli military earlier this month captured the Gaza end of the enclave's Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Egypt, bound to Israel by a 1979 peace treaty, has also been alarmed by Israel's ground offensive in Rafah on the Egyptian border, which it has strongly condemned.

Updated: May 19, 2024, 4:59 PM