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Blinken cites progress with Saudis on normalising ties with Israel
Blinken cites progress with Saudis on normalising ties with Israel
World
Blinken cites progress with Saudis on normalising ties with Israel
by DZRH News22 March 2024
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, as they hold a joint press conference, during U.S. Secretary of State Blinken's visit to Cairo, Egypt March 21, 2024. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool

By Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis

CAIRO (Reuters) -The United States and Saudi Arabia have made "good progress" in talks on normalising ties between the kingdom and Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday without providing a timeline for concluding a deal.

"I believe we can reach an agreement, which would present a historic opportunity for two nations, but also for the region as a whole," Blinken said at a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo.

Talks on normalisation had been put on ice in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack by Palestinian Hamas fighters and Israel's subsequent assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza, but conversations have resumed in recent months.

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While trying to forge a ceasefire in the Gaza war, the Biden administration has been working to secure a normalisation deal. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries want the creation of a Palestinian state to be part of any such deal with Israel.

Riyadh is also looking to clinch a mutual defence pact with Washington and get U.S. support for its civil nuclear program. Blinken discussed the topics on Wednesday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah during an official visit.

"We had a very good discussion about the work that we've been doing for many months now on normalisation, and that work is moving forward. We're continuing to make good progress," Blinken said but added that he could not offer a timeframe.

Earlier a senior State Department official said Washington and Riyadh were down to a handful of bilateral issues and there was political will to address those gaps.

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A pact giving the world's biggest oil exporter U.S. military protection in exchange for normalisation would reshape the Middle East by uniting two long-time foes and binding Riyadh to Washington at a time when China is making inroads in the region.

For such a deal to advance, Israel needs to agree to a pathway for creation of an independent Palestinian state, a prospect that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected.

Washington sees any normalisation deal woven into post-war planning that would include Arab countries providing security guarantees for Israel in return for the creation of a Palestinian state under a reformed Palestinian Authority.

Blinken did not say how Washington would overcome Netanyahu's objections to creation of a Palestinian state, but said the ongoing violence benefited Iran.

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"The perpetuation of this cycle only benefits Iran and the proxies that are working for it. So I think as that choice is clear, people will begin to really think about it and make decisions," Blinken said.

Until Oct. 7, both Israeli and Saudi leaders had been saying they were moving steadily toward a deal that could have reshaped the Middle East.

Hamas stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, by Israel's count. Israel's military offensive has killed nearly 32,000 Palestinians, Gaza health authorities say.

Five months of war in the densely populated Gaza enclave have triggered starvation and food shortages. The head of the World Health Organization said only opening more border crossings for trucks carrying aid could prevent famine in Gaza.

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(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Cairo and Simon Lewis in Washington; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Howard Goller)

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