American and Saudi officials are discussing terms of a mutual defense treaty that would resemble the military pacts that the United States has with its close allies Japan and South Korea, a central component in President Joe Biden’s high-stakes diplomacy to get Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing US officials.
Under such an agreement, the United States and Saudi Arabia would generally pledge to provide military support if the other country is attacked in the region or on Saudi territory, the report said.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the kingdom’s de facto ruler, regards a mutual defense agreement with the United States as the most important element in his talks with the Biden administration about Israel, current and former US officials said. Saudi officials say a strong defense agreement would help deter potential assaults by Iran or its armed partners even as the two regional rivals re-establish diplomatic ties.
Prince Mohammed is also asking the Biden administration to help his country develop a civilian nuclear program, which some US officials fear could be cover for a nuclear weapons program to counter Iran, noted The New York Times.
The US discussions with Saudi Arabia and Israel have mainly revolved around Prince Mohammed’s demands of the Biden administration.
The US military has bases and troops in both Japan and South Korea, but American officials told The New York Times there are currently no serious discussions about having a large contingent of American troops in Saudi Arabia under any new defense agreement. The Pentagon has just under 2,700 American troops in the kingdom, according to a letter the White House sent to Congress in June.
The State Department declined to comment on the report.
A recent report indicated that the United States and Saudi Arabia have agreed on the broad outlines of a deal for Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel in exchange for concessions to the Palestinian Arabs.
As part of the process, The Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia is offering to resume financial support to the Palestinian Authority which it had frozen in 2021.
Later, however, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that while US, Israeli and Saudi leaders have put many of the elements of a pathway to normalization on the table, there is still much work to do.
Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview that normalization “cannot be a substitute for Israel and the Palestinians resolving their differences and having a much better future for Palestinians. And in our judgment, of course, that must – needs to involve a two-state solution.”
He also added that “it’s also clear from what we hear from the Saudis that if this process is to move forward, the Palestinian piece is going to be very important, too.”