US plays down reports of Saudi-Israel normalisation breakthrough

White House official tells The National Washington is continuing its work to integrate Israel with its Arab neighbours

US President Joe Biden attends the GCC+3 meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The Biden administration's Middle East agenda has largely centred on integrating Israel into the region through the Abraham Accords. AFP
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US President Joe Biden's administration on Wednesday played down reports of major progress in its goal of establishing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“There's no agreed framework to codify the normalisation or any of the other security considerations that we and our friends have in the region,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on a Wednesday press call.

Another National Security Council official told The National: “Normalisation and the details of any agreement reached have to be decided by two sovereign states.”

The official added that Washington “continues to talk to our regional partners about how more progress can be made”.

The Biden administration's Middle East agenda has largely centred on integrating Israel into the region through the Abraham Accords, which in 2020 saw the establishment of relations between Israel and the UAE, as well as other Arab nations.

The White House emphasis that a deal must ultimately be agreed to between the Saudis and the Israelis came after a Wall Street Journal story on Wednesday hinted at a breakthrough between Washington and Riyadh, citing unnamed sources.

The Israeli and Saudi Arabian embassies in Washington did not comment on the article.

“Just to be blunt, I think the reporting has left some people with the impression that the discussions are farther along and closer to some sense of certainty than they actually are,” Mr Kirby added.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller seconded that claim at a Wednesday press conference.

The second NSC official told The National: “Regional integration benefits US national security interests, the interests of our regional partners, the people of the United States, and the citizens of the region.”

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan travelled to Saudi Arabia last month on a trip that Washington said focused on “strategic relations between the two countries and ways to enhance them in various fields”.

Mr Biden later confirmed that there were continuing American efforts to co-ordinate a normalisation deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel after Mr Sullivan's visit to Jeddah.

“There’s a rapprochement maybe under way,” Mr Biden said at a campaign event, but did not share any further details about his administration's efforts to bring about such deal.

Riyadh has maintained that public recognition of Israel would only come with movement to resolve the Palestinian conflict and create a two-state solution.

Yoel Guzansky, a former Israeli national security official, recently told The National that despite Mr Sullivan's recent Saudi visit, “significant challenges remain”.

Recent instability in Israel under a historically right-wing government have made some US regional experts sceptical over whether it is closer to a potential breakthrough on normalisation with Saudi Arabia.

“The scenes of chaos inside of Israel are going to put a limit on how far, I think, many of the countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, would be willing to open up to Israel,” Brian Katulis, senior fellow and vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told The National last month.

It “limits and constrains how far the regional normalisation and integration can go”, he added.

Updated: August 10, 2023, 1:38 PM