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State Department: No US-Saudi defense pact without Israel normalization

“This is a package deal,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said of the components of a Saudi-Israeli agreement. “None go forward without the others.”

Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesman, moderates a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, on June 19, 2023, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks on. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesman, moderates a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, on June 19, 2023, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks on. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

Any security pact between the United States and Saudi Arabia would be contingent on a normalization agreement between the Saudis and Israel, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said at a press briefing that while Riyadh and Washington have made significant progress on U.S.-Saudi bilateral negotiations, any agreement would have to be part of a “package deal” that included recognition of the Jewish state.

“In the potential normalization agreement that we were talking about with Saudi Arabia, there are several components,” Miller said. “One component is a package of agreements between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Another component is normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. And another package would be a path to two states for the Palestinian people.”

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

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken completed his seventh trip to the Middle East since Oct. 7 this week to meet with Israeli and Arab leaders, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

Blinken’s visit had prompted concerns that Washington and Riyadh might be willing to go forward with a defense agreement without securing Saudi Arabia’s recognition of Israel. Thursday’s briefing seemed designed to quell those fears.

After Blinken’s meeting with the crown prince, known as MBS, the package of agreements between the United States and Saudi Arabia was “very close,” and remaining details could be agreed to “in very short order,” Miller said.

But he added that the most significant outstanding obstacle to a deal with Saudi Arabia and “other Arab countries” is a path to a two-state solution and the lack of a ceasefire in Gaza.

“Saudi Arabia has made very clear that as part of any normalization deal with Israel, they have two requirements,” Miller said. “One, calm in Gaza, and two, a path to an independent Palestinian state.”

Earlier in the briefing, Miller said that Hamas is “the only barrier to a ceasefire right now.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he opposes any unilateral effort to achieve Palestinian statehood in the aftermath of Oct. 7. He has said that such recognition would be a “reward” for terrorism.

Miller said on Thursday that ultimately, Netanyahu and the Israeli government would have to make a decision on that and other matters; however, the Biden administration continues to believe that a two-state solution is in Israel’s interest.

“It is also the best thing that you can do to achieve Israel’s long-term goal, the goal that Israel has had since the founding of its country, which is normal relations with its neighbors,” Miller said. “It would provide broader security to Israel. It would isolate Iran. And, significantly, it would address some very real challenges Israel is going to face in Gaza when you look at the end of this conflict with figuring out how to rebuild Gaza, with figuring out how to provide security to Gaza.”

“Ultimately, the government of Israel will have to make the choice about what’s in the best interest of their people,” Miller added. “But for the United States, we have a point of view.”

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