Blinken wants Saudi Arabia and Israel to establish relations

US pushes for expansion of Abraham Accords that create ties with Israel and Arab states

Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy summit in Washington. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday called for Saudi Arabia and Israel to establish relations, shortly before he departed for a three-day trip to Riyadh.

“The United States has a real national security interest in promoting normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Mr Blinken told the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington.

He pledged to the pro-Israel lobby group that he would take up the cause while in Riyadh.

“We remain committed to working towards that outcome, including on the trip I'm about to take this week to Jeddah and Riyadh.”

Israel has long sought to establish relations with Saudi Arabia but the kingdom has said it will not enter into formal ties until progress is made in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Mr Blinken acknowledged that normalisation would not happen “quickly or easily”, but said the US would work hard to help achieve it.

But he warned that the process should not come at the expense of progress with the Palestinians.

"Integration and normalisation efforts are not a substitute for progress between Israelis and Palestinians," said Mr Blinken.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said that by adding that caveat, it was likely that the administration was making a "tactical" move to try to encourage movement between Israel and Palestinians, which has been shifting in the opposite direction for several years.

In September 2020, the US helped to broker the Abraham Accords, which normalised relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. Morocco and Sudan have since joined.

The Biden administration has been trying to expand the Accords, which were signed under former president Donald Trump, but it has yet to achieve a notable diplomatic victory in the region.

Mr Blinken said that since President Joe Biden took office there had been “concrete progress” in the Middle East.

“If you look back just over the past year, Saudi Arabia and Oman unlocked their airspace to civilian flights to and from Israel,” he said.

Mr Blinken said the creation of I2U2, a strategic partnership between the US, UAE, Israel and India, was another example of Mr Biden's efforts in the region.

The group aims to tackle many of the challenges facing the world through investments in a host of industries and sectors, including water, energy, transport and food security.

Critics have accused the Biden administration of neglecting the Middle East.

Mr Blinken is hoping to boost relations with the region during his travels, which will include attending a US-Saudi Strategic dialogue and a GCC meeting.

“We have all maintained that it's an important strategic partnership and it has been for 80 years,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

“It doesn't mean we always agree with the Saudis on everything, or that they agree with us on everything.”

Mr Blinken is expected to meet Saudi officials while in the region, including Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, with whom he will co-host a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

His trip follows a decision by Opec+ countries to extend oil production cuts.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest crude exporter, will make an additional voluntary output cut of 1 million barrels a day in July.

The move has raised concerns in the US that petrol prices will surge just as Americans take to the road for the summer holidays, something that would probably further hurt Mr Biden's approval ratings.

The State Department played down the timing of the oil cuts.

"We believe that supply should meet demand and we'll continue to work with all producers and consumers to ensure that energy markets support economic growth and lower prices for American families," said spokesman Vedant Patel.

Updated: June 05, 2023, 8:55 PM