THE Saudi Crown Prince is seeking defence guarantees and wants to develop the civilian nuclear programme from the Biden administration, in exchange for normalising relations with Israel, The New York Times reported.

According to the report, the deal could see a major political breakthrough in the Arabian peninsula. Also, it would meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most precious desire to increase this country’s security against Iran.

Last year, while giving an interview to Al Arabiya, Netanyahu urged that a peace agreement between Riyadh and the Jewish state would lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Saudi ambassador in Washington, Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud, has played a significant role. Also, the talks are being led by Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein from the US National Security Council, the report said.

Saudi officials have previously stated that they will not establish formal relations with Israel until a Palestinian state is established. However, some insiders believe they may be willing to compromise.

Riyadh’s request for a civilian N-programme is a worry for Washington as it fears it may lead to weapons development.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a civilian nuclear programme is among several demands Riyadh has presented in talks with the Biden administration over the past year, the diplomat said, while clarifying that such a deal remains “very far”.

During the Trump administration, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco signed agreements, known as the Abraham accords, for normalising relations with Israel.

Saudi Arabia’s request for a civilian nuclear programme is a concern for the US, as they fear it may lead to nuclear weapons development, said ex-envoy to Israel, Martin Indyk.

He said that the deal could benefit both the US and Israel, but Congress may resist it. The terms of a security agreement are yet to be determined, but are expected to fall short of a mutual defence guarantee, Mr Indyk said. “That creates a situation where Biden has leverage over Netanyahu to persuade him that nothing good can happen with Saudi Arabia if he allows the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to explode.”

The proposal has received mixed reactions from officials and experts in the US and the Middle East, with some questioning its possibility due to the strained relationship between President Joe Biden and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

According to analysts, the proposed deal would strengthen regional alliances, but also decrease the importance of the Palestinian issue.

Saudi public opinion may be a hindrance to the proposal’s success, as 76 per cent of Saudis hold negative views of the Abraham accords. However, analysts suggest that Saudi leaders may be willing to establish unofficial ties with Israel for shared intelligence and spyware.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2023

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