Normalisation of Israel-Saudi ties a long way off: Biden

Published July 10, 2023
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on healthcare coverage and the economy, at the White House in Washington on July 7, 2023. — Reuters
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on healthcare coverage and the economy, at the White House in Washington on July 7, 2023. — Reuters

 Joe Biden waves as he is escorted to Air Force One before departing for Britain from Dover, Delaware.—Reuters
Joe Biden waves as he is escorted to Air Force One before departing for Britain from Dover, Delaware.—Reuters

WASHINGTON: Israel and Saudi Arabia are a long way from a normalisation agreement that would involve a defence treaty and a civilian nuclear programme from the United States, US President Joe Biden said in a CNN interview broadcast on Sunday.

US officials have been negotiating in a bid to reach an elusive normalisation deal between the two countries.

“We’re a long way from there. We got a lot to talk about,” Biden said in an interview with “Fareed Zakaria’s GPS.”

Israel’s energy minister voiced opposition last month to the idea of Saudi Arabia developing a civilian nuclear programme as part of any US-mediated forging of relations between the countries.

US president begins three-nation tour with stop in London

Biden pointed to Saudi Arabia’s decision, on the eve of his visit to the kingdom last summer, to open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more overflights to and from Israel.

The US president also noted efforts toward a permanent ceasefire in Yemen, a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and has widely been seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“So, we’re making progress in the region. And it depends upon the conduct and what is asked of us for them to recognise Israel,” Biden said in the interview.

Israel’s religious-nationalist government has acknowledged setbacks in the normalisation efforts, amid Saudi censure of its policies toward the Palestinians.

But Foreign Minister Eli Cohen sounded a hopeful note about the rare participation of an Israeli delegation at a Riyadh-hosted soccer video-gaming tournament over the weekend.

“I commend the delegations’ inclusion,” he told Israeli Army Radio earlier on Sunday. “Ultimately we want to reach a state of full relations (with Saudi Arabia) — meaning cooperation on economic matters, intelligence, tourism, flights, et cetera — and I reckon this will happen sooner or later.

Nato summit

Biden departed on Sunday on a three-nation trip that will be dominated by a Nato summit in Lithuania aimed at showing solidarity with Ukraine in its fight against Russia while not yet accepting Kyiv as a member of the alliance.

Biden’s first stop will be in London, where he will meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street on Monday (today) and then travel to Windsor Castle for a visit with King Charles.

Biden will travel on to Vilnius, Lithuania, on Monday night and hold talks with Nato leaders there on Tuesday and Wednesday. Biden and the allies aim to show support for Ukraine and give Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy a sense of what he will have to do to gain Nato membership at some point in the future.

In a CNN interview previewing his trip, Biden urged caution for now on Ukraine’s drive to join Nato, saying the alliance could get drawn into the war with Russia due to Nato’s mutual defence pact.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2023

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