Ernst, Rosen discuss Saudi normalization following private meeting with Herzog

Ernst said, of lawmakers’ skepticism of Saudi Arabia, ‘We need to talk through a lot of the issues and things that have occurred in the past and make sure that we're on solid footing.’

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U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) gives opening remarks during the third installment of The Senate Project moderated by FOX News Channel's chief political anchor Bret Baier at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate on June 12, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts/ Sen. Jacky Rosen attends the 45th Kennedy Center Honors ceremony at The Kennedy Center on December 04, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Following a private meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Abraham Accords Caucus co-chairs Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) highlighted key steps to advance the agreements in interviews with Jewish Insider.

Ernst and Rosen, alongside other caucus chairs, met privately with Herzog following his speech to a joint session of Congress, for what Ernst described as more of a “cordial social meeting” than a working session and “a really wonderful opportunity to be with him and just say thank you.”

Rosen said Herzog has been “so instrumental” in helping to advance the Accords. “He gave a beautiful speech, one that I think addressed all the hope, and all the issues and thinking about where we’re going to go in the future,” she said.

In his remarks to Congress, Herzog mentioned efforts by the U.S. to broker relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Rosen said that there’s “a strong desire from the president” to secure that deal, “and whatever we can do here in the Senate to help move that forward, we’ll be glad to work on that.”

Saudi Arabia has reportedly floated a series of demands as part of those negotiations, including advanced weapons sales and security guarantees from the U.S., as well as assistance with domestic nuclear enrichment. Some of these conditions, particularly the nuclear issue, appear problematic among some members of Congress, including strong supporters of Israel.

Ernst said that “there are a number of ways” to work with the Saudis, Israelis and other Arab states to “start hammering through” these requests, but acknowledged, “I don’t know that we could support everything the Saudis are asking for.”

She noted that securing advanced weapons sales will require the Saudis to rebuild relations with skeptics in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, “to make sure that they will be a trusted partner.” Ernst said she and others are working with Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Reema bint Bandar Al Saud to strengthen these relationships.

“We need to talk through a lot of the issues and things that have occurred in the past and make sure that we’re on solid footing,” she said. “If we do decide to provide different levels of assistance to Saudi Arabia, we need to ensure that they are addressing human rights violations.”

Ernst highlighted provisions, like the MARITIME Act, advanced by the Abraham Accords Caucus that have been incorporated into the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, but was noncommittal about a proposal — introduced for potential consideration as an amendment to the NDAA on the Senate floor — to create an ambassador-level special envoy for the Abraham Accords.

Ernst said that the caucus will have to discuss the subject and that none of the other caucus members had offered a definitive position on the issue to her yet. The House already approved a similar measure by a broad bipartisan vote.

“If it is necessary to [have an ambassador], then I’m happy to have those discussions,” she said. “I am not going to say yea or nay to it yet. I just need to understand more about the particular duties of the envoy.”

Progress on the Negev Forum, one of the Biden administration’s mechanisms for advancing the Abraham Accords, has been interrupted by repeated delays in a ministerial meeting set to be hosted in Morocco. Ernst blamed “weak leadership” by President Joe Biden for the delays.

“This is where President Biden needs to act as the president of the United States in honoring the Abraham Accords and ensuring that we do get these meetings scheduled, and that we actually see follow-through,” Ernst said. “That’s where we need strong American leadership.”

Rosen also addressed the recent controversy surrounding some far-left House Democrats’ criticisms of Israel.

“Amongst Democrats and Republicans, I believe here in the Congress, and I hope around the country, the support for the State of Israel’s existence is unwavering, and it is important,” Rosen said. “And I think that President Herzog rightfully spoke out in his speech that no one should criticize or speak [against] the right of Israel to exist. That is antisemitic.”

Jewish Insider’s Washington correspondent Gabby Deutch contributed reporting.

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