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US and Saudi Arabia explore defence pact: Report

The agreement would resemble similar ones that Washington has with countries like Japan or South Korea, according to The New York Times
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaking to US President Joe Biden during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit in Jeddah on 16 July 2022.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks to US President Joe Biden during a security and development summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 16 July 2022 (AFP)

US and Saudi officials are discussing the details of a mutual defence pact, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing American officials, amid a push by Washington to get the Saudi kingdom and Israel to normalise relations.

The agreement would see the US and Saudi Arabia pledge to provide military support to the other if the country is attacked in the region or within Saudi territory. According to The New York Times, the pact would resemble similar ones that Washington has with countries like Japan or South Korea.

Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been seeking a mutual defence pact with the United States, following attacks from Yemen's Houthi rebels in recent years.

Riyadh sees the potential defence agreement as an important part of its ongoing talks about Israel with the Biden administration, officials told the newspaper.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has also called on the US to help the kingdom develop a civilian nuclear programme, a long-sought goal of Saudi Arabia.

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Tuesday's report comes as the United Nations General Assembly kicked off in New York City, bringing the leaders of more than 140 countries together for a week of meetings and speeches.

During Biden's address to the world body on Tuesday, he spoke about the benefits of countries normalising relations with Israel. Biden is also set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this week.

With the US currently hosting troops in both Japan and South Korea, the two countries that have similar defence treaties being discussed with Saudi Arabia, it is unclear whether such a pact would involve the Biden administration sending additional troops to the kingdom.

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Such a move would be a reversal of policy for the US, which in 2021 pulled Patriot missile batteries out of the kingdom. According to a White House letter sent to Congress in June, the US has under 2,700 troops currently in Saudi Arabia.

Any defence pact would also need support from two-thirds of the US Senate, which would be a difficult task with the 100-person legislative body split evenly between the two major American political parties.

In addition to calling for a mutual defence agreement and help with a nuclear programme, Riyadh has also stated that any potential normalisation with Israel would require concessions for Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia has held out the offer to normalise ties with Israel since 2002, under the Arab Peace Plan, which calls for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

While Saudi Arabia has not publicly departed from that position, analysts and people familiar with the Biden administration’s thinking tell MEE that they believe Riyadh would settle for much less.

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