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US Hopes to Clinch Milestone Defense Pact With Saudi Arabia Amid Waning Mideast Clout

© AFP 2023 / AHMED MIDOSaudi and US flags flutter on light poles. File photo
Saudi and US flags flutter on light poles. File photo - Sputnik International, 1920, 10.06.2024
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan indicated in May that the US and Saudi Arabia were inching towards a major deal that would "reshape the Middle East." However, he clarified that the Biden administration would only sign a defense pact with Saudi Arabia if the kingdom agrees to normalize relations with Israel.
The Biden administration is hoping to tuck under its belt a two-for-one megadeal that would secure a US-Saudi security alliance while also encouraging diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Israel. Washington is currently finalizing the text of the defense pact with Saudi Arabia, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing US and Saudi officials.
As US influence in the region continues to wane and its much-publicized Gaza peace-brokering makes little headway, pulling off such a twofer would be a geostrategic coup, the publication acknowledged.
The formal security treaty would commit the US to help defend the Gulf nation, while also helping “entrench the US military role in the Middle East,” the report underscored. Last month, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan made it clear in an interview with The Financial Times that Washington and Riyadh were getting closer to a major deal set to "reshape the Middle East."
The US-Saudi deal would include cooperation on a civilian nuclear program, the sale of advanced American-made weapons to Riyadh, and, possibly, a trade agreement.
However, Sullivan added the caveat that such a defense pact would stipulate agreement by the kingdom to normalize relations with Israel.
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan (R) receives US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretariat in Riyadh on April 29, 2024.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 05.05.2024
Sullivan Unveils Conditions of Potential ‘Historic’ US Defense Deal With Saudi Arabia
If this ambitious diplomatic push by the US is to have any hope of succeeding, Israel would need to get on board regarding a two-state solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict that has been called for by UN Security Council and Arab states. An immediate end to the war in Gaza is also a prerequisite. But both seem unlikely. The current Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains opposed to a pathway toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, claiming it would become a "terror haven."
Meanwhile, when Sullivan met with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the kingdom's eastern city of Dhahran to discuss bilateral relations and the Gaza war, the imperative need to end hostilities in Gaza was underscored by Riyadh. Yet, ceasefire talks remain stalled.
The US-Saudi Arabia treaty, officially called the Strategic Alliance Agreement, would need to obtain a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate. Without being linked to a commitment from Saudi Arabia to normalize ties with Israel, such a deal is unlikely to gain support from enough US lawmakers, the WSJ noted.
A Palestinian man carries belongings in Beit Lahya in the northern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 05.05.2024
Is Post-War Gaza Power-Sharing Deal Between Israel and Arab States Feasible?
Israeli leaders have long nurtured hopes of establishing normal relations with Saudi Arabia. The US, which has prided itself on playing a leading role in shaping the region for years, brokering deals with Egypt and Jordan to normalize relations with Israel, has made little progress in recent times. Furthermore, the fact that Arab countries have increasingly been turning to Russia as a mediator over the Gaza war while the US hemorrhages influence cannot but rankle with President Joe Biden. Hence, the mulled defense pact with Saudi Arabia.
At this point, it is interesting to scroll back in time and recall then-presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s irate remarks in 2019-2020, when he vowed to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” state.

Washington’s relationship with Riyadh began to wane after Joe Biden took office in January 2021. Biden, a strong critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, moved to restrict the sale of offensive weapons to the kingdom and published CIA documents accusing him of being behind the 2018 assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist connected to the Muslim Brotherhood*. Riyadh has vehemently denied the accusations.

It should be noted that Saudi Arabia along with the United Arab Emirates – considered by the US as strategic allies in the region – have resisted Western calls to sanction and isolate Russia over Ukraine. Instead, they have boosted ties with Moscow, with both Saudi Arabia and Iran recently joining the BRICS economic group. After Biden announced a boycott of Russian energy products in March 2022, the Saudis also refused to cooperate with US requests to increase petroleum production and bring down oil prices.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin  - Sputnik International, 1920, 10.12.2023
Putin Strengthens Relations with Middle Eastern Powers as Biden Flounders
* The Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization banned in Russia.
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