Saudi Arabia is asking the US to provide security guarantees and help to develop its civilian nuclear program as Washington tries to broker diplomatic relations between the kingdom and Israel, people involved in discussions between the two countries told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
The Saudi demands for security guarantees and nuclear aid are among the daunting obstacles to a deal, as some Washington lawmakers will likely oppose those measures. There remains caution in Riyadh about striking a deal that would come under fire in the Arab world and exacerbate tensions with Iran, according to the report.
Support in Saudi Arabia and across the Arab world for openly embracing Israel has also cooled in recent weeks as violence surges in the region and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presses ahead with judicial-law changes that have triggered protests, some of the sources told The Wall Street Journal.
Biden administration officials and some Saudi officials say that Israel will have to do something to address Palestinian Arab aspirations for independence. Those involved in the talks said a deal could be reached if Israel agrees to take a modest step—such as holding peace talks with the Palestinians Arabs, which have been frozen for nearly a decade.
The Saudi demands of Washington are another obstacle, however, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Riyadh officials want US support to enrich uranium and develop its own fuel production system, but American and Israeli officials worry that doing so would allow Saudi Arabia to develop a nuclear weapon and accelerate an arms race with Iran.
In 2018, the Saudi kingdom declared its intentions to pursue a non-military nuclear program, with plans to build 16 nuclear power plants over the next quarter century.
It is unclear where its ambitions end, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that year that the kingdom would develop nuclear weapons if regional rival Iran did.
Saudi Arabia also wants firm guarantees that the US will come to the kingdom’s defense when needed, according to Thursday’s report, but past efforts by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to secure such US assurances have been rebuffed by recent Democratic and Republican presidents.
Israel has been for years rumored to have behind-the-scenes ties with Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis have vehemently denied those rumors.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that his goal is to achieve a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia that would “effectively end the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
However, Saudi officials have repeatedly said that a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital is a prerequisite for Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel.
In mid-February, sources told Bloomberg that Israel’s new government has stepped up US-backed talks with Saudi Arabia on developing closer military and intelligence ties in light of growing concerns about Iran.