Blinken cites progress with Saudis on normalising ties with Israel

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 2:58 PM

By Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis

CAIRO (Reuters) – The United States and Saudi Arabia have made “good progress” in talks on normalising ties between the kingdom and Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday without providing a timeline for concluding a deal.

“I believe we can reach an agreement, which would present a historic opportunity for two nations, but also for the region as a whole,” Blinken said at a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo.

Talks on normalisation had been put on ice in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack by Palestinian Hamas fighters and Israel’s subsequent assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza, but conversations have resumed in recent months.

The Biden administration has been working to secure such a deal. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries want the creation of a Palestinian state to be part of any deal.

Riyadh is also looking to clinch a mutual defence pact with Washington and get U.S. support for its civil nuclear program. Blinken discussed the topics on Wednesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah during an official visit.

“We had a very good discussion about the work that we’ve been doing for many months now on normalisation, and that work is moving forward. We’re continuing to make good progress,” Blinken said but added that he could not offer a timeframe.

A pact giving the world’s biggest oil exporter U.S. military protection in exchange for normalisation would reshape the Middle East by uniting two long-time foes and binding Riyadh to Washington at a time when China is making inroads in the region.

For such a deal to advance, Israel needs to agree to a pathway for creation of an independent Palestinian state, a prospect that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected.

Washington sees any normalisation deal woven into post-war planning that would include Arab countries providing security guarantees for Israel in return for the creation of a Palestinian state under a reformed Palestinian Authority.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Cairo and Simon Lewis in Washington; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Chris Reese and Howard Goller)