WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Monday for the normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel on the eve of his visit to the Arab power.
“The United States has a real national security interest in promoting normalisation between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Blinken said in a speech to the powerful pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
“We believe we can and indeed we must play an integral role in advancing it,” Blinken said.
He said the administration of President Joe Biden has “no illusions” that bringing about full Saudi-Israel diplomatic relations can be done quickly or easily.
“But we remain committed to working toward that outcome, including on my trip this week to Jeddah and Riyadh for engagements with Saudi and Gulf counterparts,” he said.
Blinken is expected to arrive on Tuesday evening in Jeddah.
On Wednesday and Thursday, he will be in Riyadh for a ministerial meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council and a separate meeting of the 80-strong coalition of countries fighting the Islamic State group.
In a speech Blinken also cautioned that moves toward annexation of the Israeli-occupied West Bank or that disrupt the status quo at holy sites would hurt the prospects for a two-state solution. He didn’t name the specific holy sites he was referring to.
“Settlement expansion clearly presents an obstacle to the horizon of hope that we seek,” Blinken said to muted response from the audience.
“Likewise, any move toward annexation of the West Bank, de facto or de jure, disruption of the historic status quo at holy sites, the continuing demolitions of homes and the evictions of families that have lived in those homes for generations damage prospects for two-states. They also undermine the basic daily dignity to which all people are entitled.”
The top US diplomat drew widespread applause when he outlined the longstanding American commitment to Israel and said all options were on the table when it came to preventing Israel’s No. 1 enemy, Iran, from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Washington would continue to work toward helping Israel integrate into the region as a means of enhancing security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East, Blinken said.
Blinken made an oblique reference to the contentious judicial reform proposal that led to massive protests in Israel in recent months. US President Joe Biden publicly opposed the proposal, which would give the Israeli government greater control over appointments to the country’s Supreme Court.
“We’ll continue to express our support for core democratic principles, including a separation of powers, checks and balances, and the equal administration of justice for all citizens of Israel,” he said.
Deep but testy relations
Besides his diplomatic counterparts, Blinken is expected to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto power in the country.
Despite longstanding close ties, US relations with the Saudis have been testy in recent years, over human rights issues like the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a group tied to the Saudi royal palace, and Riyadh’s effort to raise oil prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“There is just a tremendous amount of work that we’re trying to do” with the visit, said Daniel Benaim, a senior State Department official dealing with Arabian Peninsula affairs.
“We’re focused on an affirmative agenda here and the great deal of work our countries can do together.”
The anti-Islamic State coalition meeting will focus on the spread of extremism outside the Middle East, according to Ian McCary of the Department of State’s Counterterrorism Bureau.
“We’re focusing in particular on Africa, where violent groups have adopted ISIS’s ideology,” McCary said, using another acronym for the Islamic State. — Agencies
Photo: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned that moves toward annexation of the Israeli-occupied West Bank or that disrupt the status quo at holy sites would hurt the prospects for a two-state solution. — Reuters