Friday, December 8, 2023

Saudi-Israel normalisation getting ‘closer’: MbS

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has said that Riyadh was moving steadily closer to normalising relations with Tel Aviv, following similar moves by other Persian Gulf countries and amid a big push by the United States for a Saudi-Israeli deal.

“Every day, we get closer,” the crown prince told US broadcaster Fox News, according to excerpts seen by Reuters of an interview scheduled to air later on Wednesday.

The interview with the crown prince came as US President Joe Biden’s administration presses ahead with an effort to broker historic ties between the two regional powerhouses, Washington’s top Middle East allies.

The normalisation talks are the centrepiece of complex negotiations that also include possible Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, as well as discussions of US security guarantees and civilian nuclear help that Riyadh has sought.

MbS told Fox’s, Special Report, that the Palestinian issue was “very important” to Riyadh.

“We need to solve that part,” he said when asked what it would take to get a normalisation agreement.

“We got to see where we go. We hope that will reach a place, that it will ease the life of the Palestinians, get Israel as a player in the Middle East,” he added, speaking in English.

US officials have privately touted the potential benefits of a regional mega-deal, which would be a foreign policy win as Biden seeks re-election in November 2024.

MbS also stated that if Iran got obtained a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would “have to get one”.

Tehran has repeatedly declared that its nuclear program remains purely peaceful as always and that the Islamic Republic had no intention of developing nuclear weapons as a matter of an Islamic and state principal.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei issued an official fatwa (religious decree) clearly establishing that any form of acquisition, development, and use of nuclear weapons violate Islamic principles and are therefore forbidden.

Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, has long been an adversary of Iran, but relations have improved since Riyadh and Tehran agreed to restore diplomatic relations in March.

The broadcast of the crown prince’s comments will follow a meeting between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, in which they pledged to work together towards Israeli-Saudi normalisation, which could reshape the geopolitics of the Middle East.

Both leaders also stressed Iran could not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.

The interview with Fox’s anchor, Bret Baier, was the royal’s first on US TV since 2019. Saudi Arabia has been embroiled in controversy, particularly following the crown prince’s alleged role in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

After a week of lead-up interviews with various Saudi government and business leaders, Baier told Fox that he had seen the country undergo “tectonic changes at a scale and pace and degree that no country in modern times has seen”.

“These changes have been positive,” he added.

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