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Sullivan: ‘Still a ways to travel’ before Israel-Saudi deal

The Biden administration is planning to ask the IAEA for an advisory opinion on a potential Saudi civilian nuclear program, said the U.S national security advisor.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Credit: U.S. Virtual Embassy Iran.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Credit: U.S. Virtual Embassy Iran.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday that while work on an Israel-Saudi normalization deal is ongoing, such a deal isn’t imminent.

Sullivan has traveled to Riyadh numerous times over the last six months in a bid to broker an agreement.

“There is still a ways to travel with respect to all of the elements of those discussions, and they get quite technical,” he said on Tuesday. He added that the Biden administration was planning to ask the International Atomic Energy Agency for an advisory opinion on a potential Saudi civilian nuclear program that would include uranium enrichment.

Earlier this month, the White House downplayed claims that the Saudis had agreed to the “broad contours” of a normalization deal with Israel.

“There’s no agreed framework to codify the normalization or any of the other security considerations that we and our friends have in the region,” said U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

He was responding to a Wall Street Journal report that U.S. and Saudi officials were “negotiating the details of an agreement they hope to cement within nine to 12 months.”

According to the report, negotiators are already discussing specifics, including American help for a Saudi civilian nuclear program, along with security guarantees and concessions for Palestinians.

Washington in return is asking Riyadh to place limits on its burgeoning ties with China, and is likely to request assurances that the Saudis will not allow China to build military bases on their territory.

Limits on Saudi use of Chinese technology and a commitment to use U.S. currency and not the Chinese yuan may also be part of the negotiations.

Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said negotiators have not broached specifics with Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed confidence in a recent interview that his government could achieve some form of normalization with Saudi Arabia in the coming months.

“I think that we are about to witness a pivot of history,” Netanyahu told Bloomberg. “First, there is an economic corridor of energy, transport and communications that naturally goes through our geography from Asia through the Arabian Peninsula to Europe,” he said, adding, “We are going to realize that.”

Saudi Arabia “is one of the exceptional things that tells you why I’m very optimistic about Israel,” he said. “If there is a political will, there will be a political way to achieve normalization and formal peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia. That has enormous economic consequences for the investors and if they have to bet on it right now, I’d bet on it,” he added. 

On Tuesday, Sullivan said that “peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia would be a big deal,” adding that such a development is a U.S. interest because it would create a more stable and cooperative Middle East.

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