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‘None go forward without the others.’ US mega-deal would tie together the futures of Saudi Arabia, Israel and Gaza



CNN

Saudi Arabia and the United States are finalizing details of a historic deal to boost bilateral trade and defense – but no deal will be reached if the kingdom and Israel do not establish diplomatic ties, U.S. officials said.

A defense treaty would consolidate the seven-decade security alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States, and bind them even more closely as American adversaries like Iran, Russia and China seek to expand their influence in the Middle-East. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long sought ties with Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, as the move could have adverse effects on the Muslim world as a whole.

The United States is currently negotiating a mega-deal involving three parts, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Thursday.

The first part includes a set of agreements between the United States and Saudi Arabia, another part concerns the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and a third part concerns the path towards a Palestinian state.

“All of them are linked together. None move forward without the others,” Miller said.

For normalization to be achieved between Saudi Arabia and Israel, there must be a path to Palestinian statehood and “calm in Gaza,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a panel at an economic conference in Riyadh this week.

“The work that Saudi Arabia and the United States have done together under our own agreements is, I think, potentially very close to being completed, but moving toward normalization will require two things: calm in Gaza and a credible the path to a Palestinian state,” he said.

On the sidelines of the forum, Blinken met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) to discuss the deal, the State Department said. Experts describe the Saudi-US deal as a “comprehensive package of agreements” that would include security, economic and technological guarantees for the kingdom, as well as support for its civilian nuclear program.

The normalization deal is expected to draw inspiration from the Abraham Accords, a set of treaties that saw four Arab states recognize Israel in 2020 and which bypassed the long-standing Arab demand for an independent Palestinian state as a precondition for peace. recognition of Israel. MBS earlier said a pact with Israel would be “the largest historic deal since the Cold War.”

In 2021, Netanyahu described the Accords as allowing Israel to replace “the old and dangerous doctrine of lands for peace and bringing peace in exchange for peace, without giving up a single inch” and sought to expand what he called the “circle of peace.”

Since then, the Biden administration has placed Israeli-Saudi normalization at the heart of its Middle East policy. The United States and Saudi Arabia had continued discussions on the deal in 2023, and Blinken was scheduled to visit Riyadh on October 10 last year to discuss details, just three days before Hamas attacked Israel, thus postponing efforts.

The subsequent Israeli assault on Gaza, which left the enclave in ruins and killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, may have changed the parameters of the deal for Saudi Arabia, analysts say. Now, Israel’s acceptance of an element calling for an “irreversible” path to Palestinian statehood would be key to the crucial normalization element of the broader deal.

“We have the outline of what needs to happen on the Palestinian front… credible, irreversible (the path to Palestinian statehood),” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a panel of the World Economic Forum, without referring to normalization with Israel.

Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected the prospect of an independent Palestinian state, arguing that it would harm Israel’s security, and he is determined to continue the war in Gaza until Hamas is eliminated.

These obstacles could lead the kingdom to try to conclude the bilateral agreement without the normalization part of the agreement, analysts say. But such an approach would face major obstacles. An agreement establishing a firm US military commitment to Saudi Arabia’s security, without an element of normalization, is unlikely to pass the US Congress, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said.

“If there is a mutual defense agreement negotiated in the form of a treaty, it will take 67 votes in the Senate for it to become binding. Without normalizing Israeli-Saudi relations and ensuring Israel’s security needs regarding the Palestinian issue, there would be very few voices in favor of a mutual defense agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Graham said on X in response to reports that Saudi Arabia opted for a U.S.-Saudi mutual defense agreement. for a “plan B” to the agreement.

Experts say Biden could bypass Congress to reach a deal by modeling it on another security agreement he signed with Bahrain last year.

“There is another path, modeled after the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement that the Biden administration signed with Bahrain in September 2023,” according to Firas Maksad, senior fellow and director of strategic outreach at the Middle East. East Institute of Washington DC. The text of that agreement “explicitly states that other parties may be invited to join,” he said.

However, there is no indication that the Biden administration would choose to bypass Congress to pass the bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia.

For Saudi Arabia, a bilateral deal with the United States would be a major victory, marking the end of the era when Biden sought to undermine MBS by pledging to make his country a “pariah” after the columnist’s murder Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi. hands of Saudi intelligence officials in Türkiye.

The deal would also “cement U.S. dominance in the Middle East for generations and ease the growing challenge posed by China and Russia,” Maksad said.

MBS wishes to strengthen the kingdom’s defenses and diversify the Saudi economy away from hydrocarbons, while pursuing an ambitious economic policy called Vision 2030. The kingdom has a nascent civil nuclear program that the crown prince wishes to develop with the support of the United States. United.

“Saudi Arabia would like to make a deal with the United States and this is probably the best time under the Biden administration to help some of the trickier issues move through Congress,” according to Karen Young, a senior fellow at the Center on from Columbia University. Global energy policy, referring to the enrichment of nuclear materials.

Another sticking point in any U.S. support for such a program is U.S. opposition to local enrichment of uranium, a key component of nuclear energy that could also be used to develop nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia is rich in uranium deposits and has insisted on being able to enrich it locally, which would be a first for an Arab state. The neighboring United Arab Emirates, for example, imports enriched uranium to fuel its nuclear power plants.

On Wednesday, Democratic Senator Edward J. Markey, co-chair of the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Task Force, called on the Biden administration to ensure that Riyadh commits to renouncing the enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear materials , citing MBS previously saying that Saudi Arabia would develop a nuclear weapon if Iran did so as well.

“The path to peace in the Middle East should not include the prospect of a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia, which would harm the interests of the United States and its allies and partners in the region,” he said in his letter.

The Saudi-US pact would require the two countries to work together to deter and confront external aggression, but does not formalize it as an alliance treaty, according to Maksad.

“It is often described as Article 4.5, which stops just short of an alliance treaty that requires Senate approval but provides for a written commitment to mutual defense,” Maksad said, referring to the article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which requires all member states to agree. the defense of any State faced with an attack.

“There will still be room for a multilateral security agreement that would eventually include Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United States and others, when political circumstances permit…the choice will be Israel’s , when he is ready to put something moving on the table. the ball forward towards a two-state solution with the Palestinians,” Maksad said.



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