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Saudi, Israeli foreign ministers joined US virtual meeting on Omicron: Reports

Neither the US nor Israel mentioned the participation of the Saudi minister in their statements about the meeting between top foreign diplomats
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan has previously said that a normalisation deal with Israel would be "extremely helpful" and bring "tremendous benefits" to the Middle East.
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan has previously said a normalisation deal with Israel would be 'extremely helpful' to the Middle East (AFP)

The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Israel last week participated in a virtual meeting hosted by the US State Department, a rare occurrence between the two countries that do not have formal diplomatic ties.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan took part in the call held by top diplomats aimed at boosting cooperation to combat the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, according to The Times of Israel and CNN, which both cited unnamed officials.

The meeting, which took place on 21 December, was mentioned by both Israel and the United States, which issued statements without referring to bin Farhan's participation.

The State Department said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken "met virtually with several foreign ministers and representatives of regional organizations", but did not mention which countries he met with.

However, China's ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, posted a screenshot of the virtual meeting on Twitter, which showed bin Farhan and Lapid in attendance, along with a number of other diplomats.

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Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic relations, with Riyadh saying it would not normalise relations with Tel Aviv outside of the framework of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

However, the Saudi foreign minister has previously said that a normalisation deal with Israel would be "extremely helpful" and bring "tremendous benefits" to the Middle East.

Saudi foreign minister says normalisation with Israel would bring 'tremendous benefits'
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"Normalising Israel's status within the region would bring tremendous benefits to the region as a whole. It would be extremely helpful, both economically but also socially and from the security perspective," he said in an interview with CNN in April.

Israel views Saudi Arabia as part of a moderate axis of Arab countries with which it seeks cooperation against Iran, and has been reported in the past to have lobbied the US in support of economic aid for the kingdom.

The US has also raised the issue of normalisation with Saudi Arabia in recent years, particularly during the administration of Donald Trump, which brokered the normalisation agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a senior adviser to the former president, wrote in March that Saudi Arabia-Israel normalisation was "in sight".

In September, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan brought up the idea of the kingdom normalising ties with Israel during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a report by Axios that cited three US and Arab sources.

The crown prince did not completely reject the proposal, but rather presented US officials with a list of steps that would have to take place before such an agreement could move forward, Axios reported. One of those steps was an improvement in bilateral US-Saudi relations.

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