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May 20, 2024

US National Security Advisor and Saudi Crown Prince Discuss Key Security Agreement

President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman early Sunday to deliberate on what the kingdom referred to as the semi-final draft of a comprehensive security agreement between the two nations. The announcement, made by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, comes in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of 1,200 individuals and the capture of 250 hostages taken to Gaza. This event significantly disrupted the progress of the strategic deal.

Since the attack, Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes and ground offensive have led to the deaths of over 35,000 Palestinians, further complicating the security deal that included Saudi Arabia’s potential diplomatic recognition of Israel for the first time since its establishment in 1948.

No images of Sullivan and Prince Mohammed’s meeting in Dhahran, home to Saudi Aramco, were released by Saudi state media. The discussions centered on finalizing the draft strategic agreements between Saudi Arabia and the United States, with a focus on addressing the Palestinian issue and establishing a credible path forward. This includes a two-state solution that respects the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people, emphasizing the need to cease hostilities in Gaza and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Saudi Arabia has consistently advocated for the creation of an independent Palestinian state based on Israel’s 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. However, this position is likely untenable for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose coalition government depends on hard-liners opposed to a two-state solution and supportive of Israeli settlements on Palestinian-claimed territories.

The White House acknowledged Sullivan’s trip and his subsequent visit to Israel to meet with Netanyahu. However, there was no immediate detailed statement from the US on the discussions, aside from confirming that the talks included the Gaza conflict and efforts to achieve lasting peace and security in the region.

Historically, Saudi Arabia, along with other Gulf Arab nations, has relied on the US as a security guarantor in the Middle East, especially amidst rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear program. The proposed security agreement likely aims to strengthen this relationship and may include provisions for advanced weaponry and trade deals.

A significant aspect of the negotiations involves Saudi Arabia’s push for nuclear cooperation, including the possibility of enriching uranium within the kingdom. This proposal raises concerns among nonproliferation experts, as it could pave the way for a potential nuclear weapons program. Crown Prince Mohammed has previously stated that Saudi Arabia would pursue nuclear weapons if Iran developed one. Recent weeks have seen Iran increasingly hinting at the possibility of advancing its nuclear capabilities.

In a related development, Iran’s mission to the United Nations confirmed that indirect talks with US officials took place in Oman last week. The state-run IRNA news agency quoted the mission, describing the discussions as part of an ongoing process. Oman has historically served as a venue for US-Iran negotiations, even amidst heightened tensions between the two nations under Biden’s administration.

The outcome of these high-stakes negotiations remains uncertain, but the meetings underscore the complex geopolitical dynamics at play in the Middle East and the critical role of US-Saudi relations in shaping regional security and stability.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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