Netanyahu discusses Saudi peace with US security advisor

AFP , Thursday 19 Jan 2023

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed normalising ties with Saudi Arabia in talks with visiting White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Thursday, his office said.

Israel s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israel s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a transition ceremony for the Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi in Jerusalem, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. AP

Netanyahu, who returned to power last month with the formation of a new government, was also at the helm in 2020 when Israel established ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco as part of the Abraham Accords.

The Israeli premier has repeatedly expressed his desire to see Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, join the list.

In their talks, Netanyahu and Sullivan discussed "measures to deepen the Abraham Accords and expand the cycle of peace, with an emphasis on a breakthrough with Saudi," the Israeli leader's office said in a statement.

In 2020, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a clandestine meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which marked the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials.

However, Saudi Arabia has said that the price for ties with Israel is a Palestinian state.

Touching on an area where the new hardline Israeli government and the Biden administration do not see eye to eye, Sullivan said he opposed policies endangering the "viability" of a future Palestinian state, according to the statement.

Sullivan likewise "underscored the urgency of avoiding unilateral steps by any party that could inflame tensions on the ground, with special attention to maintaining the historic status quo with respect to the holy places in Jerusalem."

Sullivan's visit, the first by a senior US official since Netanyahu's new government was sworn in, also saw him meet President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday for talks about "ways to deepen the strategic cooperation", Herzog's office said.

Before speaking with Netanyahu on Thursday, Sullivan had met with the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, David Barnea, and Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi.

Hanegbi and Sullivan also held a video call with their Emirati and Bahraini counterparts, with the four "committing to enhancing the Abraham Accords", Netanyahu's office said.

Earlier in January, Israel participated in one of its "largest" meetings with Arab countries in decades during a forum held in the United Arab Emirates, a gathering born out of recent normalisation deals between Arab states and Israel.

United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco  normalised ties with the Jewish state in 2020 while Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979.

Netanyahu and Sullivan also discussed joint efforts to curb Iran's nuclear programme and its regional activities, with Netanyahu thanking his American guest for President Joe Biden's commitment to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear arms, the statement said.

"You come at a special time because we have acute challenges to our security and vast opportunities for peace," Netanyahu said in televised remarks relayed by his office.

"I am convinced that by working together we can both meet the challenges and realise the opportunities," he said. "That's something that bolsters our extraordinary alliance but also can change the region and change history."

The White House said that Sullivan reiterated the US pledge to "ensure Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon".

Netanyahu and Sullivan "also discussed Ukraine, as well as the burgeoning defense partnership between Russia and Iran and its implications for security in the Middle East," National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.


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