Saudi Arabia is determined to secure a military pact requiring the United States to defend the kingdom in return for opening ties with Israel and will not hold up a deal even if Israel does not offer major concessions to Palestinians in their bid for statehood, three regional sources familiar with the talks said.
A pact might fall short of the cast-iron, NATO-style defence guarantees the kingdom initially sought when the issue was first discussed between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Joe Biden during the US president’s visit to Saudi Arabia in July 2022.
Instead, a US source said it could look like treaties Washington has with Asian states or, if that would not win US Congress approval, it could be similar to a US agreement with Bahrain, where the US Navy Fifth Fleet is based.
Such an agreement would not need congressional backing.
Washington could also sweeten any deal by designating Saudi Arabia a Major Non-NATO Ally, a status already given to Israel, the US source said.
But all the sources said Saudi Arabia would not settle for less than binding assurances of US protection if it faced attack, such as the Sept.
14, 2019 missile strikes on its oil sites that rattled world markets. Riyadh and Washington blamed Iran, the kingdom’s regional rival, although Tehran denied having a role.
Agreements giving the world’s biggest oil exporter US protection in return for normalisation with Israel would reshape the Middle East by bringing together two longtime foes and binding Riyadh to Washington after China’s inroads in the region.
For Biden, it would be a diplomatic victory to vaunt before the 2024 US election.