Palestinians run for cover after an Israeli strike near Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City, on Wednesday.—AFP
Palestinians run for cover after an Israeli strike near Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City, on Wednesday.—AFP

WASHINGTON: Saudi Arabia has reassured the Biden administration that it’s still interested in pursuing a potential agreement to normalise relations with Israel after the crisis in Gaza ends, the White House said.

The visiting Saudi Defence Minister Khalid bin Salman met White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday and their talks focused on the crisis in Gaza as sides affirmed the urgent need to increase humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, the White House said.

“Without getting into specifics — we came away from those discussions confident that we have a path to get back towards normalisation and that there is an interest on the Saudi side to pursue that,” US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters in Washington on Tuesday evening.

The Saudi defence minister, however, said in a tweet that he stressed to Mr Sullivan the need for an immediate ‘ceasefire’ in Gaza, protection of civilians, allowing humanitarian aid and resuming the peace process.

Mr Kirby acknowledged that the Gaza situation makes it harder to discuss long-term peace plans but said “we are still committed to it, and it is clear to us that the Saudis are still committed to it.”

The White House said that the Saudis also “emphasised the importance of working towards a sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians, building on the work that was already underway between Saudi Arabia and the United States over recent months.”

The recent talks between the United States and Saudi Arabia have revolved around the ongoing crisis and the pursuit of potential normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The later part of the talks is based on the 2020 Abrahamic Accords, which marked a historic diplomatic breakthrough, normalising relations between Israel and several Arab nations, including the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. The Gaza unrest, while complex and ongoing, have also impacted the broader Middle East dynamics and the future of the accords.

As the White House said, both sides are now addressing the immediate crisis in Gaza, as Saudis press for a ceasefire to protect civilians and allow humanitarian aid.

The United States had been pushing for a comprehensive deal involving Saudi Arabia and Israel, aiming for a historic peace agreement between the two countries before the Israeli attack.

The Saudi defence minister’s visit to Washington included talks with senior Biden administration officials, stressing the urgency of a ceasefire, safeguarding civilians, providing humanitarian aid, and reigniting the peace process.

Despite the complexities triggered by the ongoing Israeli aggression in Gaza, both sides underlined their intent to move forward with these strategic accords.

The US media reported a recent conversation between US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also acknowledged the importance of working towards a sustainable peace.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2023

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