Saudi Strategy

Blinken: Saudi-Israeli normalization is ‘a real national security interest’ for the U.S.

The secretary of state said he plans to work on the issue during an upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia later this week

Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken speaks to reporters during a press briefing at the U.S. Department of State on July 27, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told AIPAC members that the U.S. has “a real national security interest in promoting normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia” and pledged to work on the issue on a trip to Saudi Arabia later this week.

“We believe that we can, and indeed we must, play an integral role in advancing [this],” Blinken told an audience of several hundred at an AIPAC Policy Summit in Washington on Monday. “We have no illusions that this can be done quickly or easily. But we remain committed to working toward that outcome, including on the trip that I’m about to take this week to Jeddah and Riyadh for engagements with our Saudi and Gulf counterparts.”

Blinken also announced that the Department of State is planning to create a “new position to further our diplomacy and engagement with governments, the private sector and nongovernmental organizations” to advance “a more peaceful and a more connected region.”

The comment appears to confirm a recent report that the administration plans to establish a post — potentially to be filled by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro — to serve as the administration’s lead official for the Abraham Accords. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are advancing legislation to create a dedicated ambassador for the Accords.

Blinken described regional normalization as a “cornerstone” of President Joe Biden’s Middle East policy, and pointed to recent Saudi and Omani moves to allow flights to and from Israel to use Saudi and Omani airspace as “concrete progress” for the region.

He also argued that Arab-Israeli normalization should advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — a sentiment that may prove more thorny with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and far-right members of his government.

“Integration and normalization efforts are not a substitute for progress between Israelis and Palestinians, nor should they come at its expense,” Blinken said. “Israel’s deepening relationships with its partners can and should advance the well-being of the Palestinian people and the prospects for a two-state solution.”

Blinken emphasized in his speech the importance of “maintain[ing] a horizon” for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, reiterating previous warnings against unilateral actions that increase tensions.

“This work requires both parties to uphold the commitments they make, including at those recent meetings,” Blinken said, referring to recent multilateral talks in Jordan and Egypt. Israeli government officials have claimed subsequently they are not bound by commitments made at those meetings.

In addition to condemning Palestinian terrorism and incitement to violence, Blinken sent a clear warning to Israel, describing settlement expansion, “any move toward annexation of the West Bank, de facto or de jure, destruction of the historic status quo at the holy sites, the continuing demolitions of homes and the evictions of families that have lived in those homes for generations” as an “obstacle” to the future of peace talks and as undermining “basic human dignity.”

He also alluded to Israeli judicial reform efforts, saying that the U.S. would “continue to work with the Israeli government to advance our shared values… [and] express our support for core democratic principles, including a separation of powers, checks and balances, and equal administration of justice for all citizens of Israel.”

He continued that the U.S. “welcome[s] efforts to find consensus on any reforms” as “simply the best way to make sure that they are embraced and that they endure.”

At the same time, Blinken reiterated that the U.S.’ commitment to Israel’s security “is not negotiable, it is ironclad,” noting that the two nations have conducted more joint exercises this year than at any point in history. The U.S.-Israel relationship, he continued, “touched on every aspect of our lives” and “the depth and breadth of that partnership between our government is matched only by the strength of the ties between our peoples.”

The secretary of state acknowledged that the Iranian regime poses the greatest danger to Israel, reiterating previous comments from administration officials that “Iran can not and will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.” Blinken reemphasized that the U.S. prefers diplomacy, paired with “economic pressure and deterrence,” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon but said that “all options are on the table.”

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