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Squeezed by high oil price, US seeks to return to business as usual with Saudi Arabia

May 26, 2022 at 12:39 pm

Crown Prince and Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud in Abu Dhabi, UAE. [Royal Court of Saudi Arabia – Anadolu Agency]

Two of President Joe Biden’s senior advisers are reportedly on a secret visit to Saudi Arabia for talks about a possible arrangement between Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.

They are expected to discuss a deal to increase oil production, Biden’s planned visit later in the year and Washington and Riyadh’s bilateral relationship, three current and former US officials told Axios.

White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk and the State Department’s energy envoy Amos Hochstein arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for meetings with senior Saudi officials, the sources said.

Talks over increasing oil production are high on the agenda as are discussions about normalisation in relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Earlier this week Axios reported that Biden administration in Washington has been mediating quietly between Cairo, Riyadh and Tel Aviv in negotiations that, if successful, could pave the way for the normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia the Apartheid State.

Saudi Foreign Minister, Faisal Bin Farhan denied reports about joining the so-called Abraham Accords which saw Arab countries normalise ties with Israel. “Nothing has changed in how we view the subject. We have always seen normalisation as the end result, but the end result of a path,” Bin Farhan said in the World Economic Forum in Davos. “Saudi Arabia is the one who launched the Arab Peace Initiative [at the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002] and it will lead [the initiative] to full normalisation of relations between Israel and the region.”

Saudi Arabia: no normalisation as long as the Palestinian issue is unresolved

The Saudi-led initiative endorsed by the Arab League’s 22-member states offered Israel a comprehensive formula for peace based on international norms. In exchange for Israel’s complete withdrawal from all territories occupied during the June 1967 Six Day War, the Arab states offered full normalisation of diplomatic ties with the Occupation State and recognised its right to exist in peace and security in the region.

The offer of peace with the Apartheid State suffered a major blow because of Israel’s refusal to end its illegal military occupation. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also pledged that he would make Arab countries normalise ties with Israel under the status quo, meaning under terms favourable to the Occupation State, without conceding territory or statehood for Palestinians. The arrival of former US President Donald Trump on the international scene opened the door for turning what were once Israeli far right fantasies into reality.

At least for now Farhan has shown no signs that Saudi Arabia is about to abandon the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative.

The deal over oil production may be easier to strike, as is suggested in the Axios report.  Increasing oil production has been a longstanding request by the Biden administration to the Saudi government. But the Saudis so far have not shown openness to it.

Washington has made several attempts to convince Riyadh to increase oil production so it can push for a wide range of sanctions on Russian oil amid the ongoing war in Ukraine. The Saudis have so far stuck to their agreement with Russia over oil production levels. But this agreement is due to expire in September, which could create an opening for a deal with the US over future production levels.

Biden is considering visiting Saudi Arabia at the end of June. If the trip goes ahead, it will be seen as a major U-turn by the US president. Having described Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” state and side-lined its Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, few would have expected to see relations return to business as usual so soon.

US-brokered negotiations could pave way for Saudi-Israeli normalisation