U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Saudi-Israeli relations with George Stephanopoulos in New York on Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“When it comes to possible normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, this would be a transformative event,” Blinken said. “We’ve had decades of turmoil, decades of conflict in the Middle East. To bring these two countries together in particular would have a powerful effect in stabilizing the region, in integrating the region, in bringing people together, not having them at each other’s throats.”
That won’t be easy, the secretary allowed.
“There are things that Saudis are looking for, things the Israelis are looking for, things we’d be looking for that make getting to ‘yes’ a challenge,” Blinken said. “But we see the reward, if we can get there, as well being worth the effort.”
Stephanopoulos noted that U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were slated to meet later on Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly—“not at the White House, here in New York City.”
“Do you believe that the prime minister is willing to do what it takes to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia?” he asked Blinken.
The secretary said his sense is that all parties involved realize the benefits and “transformative nature of what this would be.”
“But the devil is always in the details, and making sure that in terms of what the Saudis are looking for, the Israelis are looking for, what—as I said, what we’d be looking for—can we line all that up? Can we make it work? That remains to be seen,” he said.
“It’s challenging,” he added. “I come back to this proposition that if we can get there, it would be one of the biggest changes for the good that we’ve seen in that part of the world. And beyond that, I think you’d see positive repercussions well beyond the Middle East.”
Also on Wednesday, Blinken joined Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “The Today Show.” Guthrie asked him about the $6 billion price tag for freeing five U.S. hostages from Iran, plus two other Americans. “Does that not endanger Americans elsewhere, put a higher price on their heads?” she asked.
‘Money for nefarious actions’
Blinken repeated a claim he had made previously—that the monies already belonged to Iran. “In other words, the Iranians have always had the right to use those funds for humanitarian purposes,” he said. “We moved them from one bank account to another in another country with very clear controls on them to make sure that they could only be used for humanitarian purposes.”
“Fair enough. But as you well know, money is fungible. So the notion is that $6 billion Iran doesn’t have to spend on whatever the Iranian people need is $6 billion they can spend elsewhere and be up to no good,” Guthrie said. “They’re suddenly flush with $6 billion of cash that they otherwise wouldn’t have.”
Blinken replied that humanitarian funds have always been outside of U.S. sanctions. “We don’t want to be in the business of denying the Iranian people what they need,” he said. “The government, the regime is something totally different.”
“For better or worse—and, unfortunately, for worse—the Iranians have always found a way to spend money for the nefarious actions that they’re engaged in,” he added. “They’ve done it before sanctions, during sanctions, after sanctions. That’s going to continue.”