August 9, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Denies Significant Progress in Saudi-Israel Normalization  

August 9, 2023 | Flash Brief

U.S. Denies Significant Progress in Saudi-Israel Normalization  

Latest Developments 

The Biden administration on August 9 denied reports that the United States and Saudi Arabia had agreed to a framework that would see the Arab kingdom normalize relations with Israel. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that while President Joe Biden gave his approval for high-level diplomats to discuss normalization terms with Saudi leaders, reports of an agreement “left some people with the impression that the discussions are farther along and closer to a sense of certainty than they are.” 

Earlier in the day, The Wall Street Journal cited U.S. officials saying that Saudi Arabia and the United States agreed to “broad contours” of a normalization agreement, with a list of concessions that both parties would attempt to negotiate in the coming months. According to the report, the Saudis were seeking a commitment from Israel to promote the creation of a Palestinian state, U.S. security guarantees, and help developing a civilian nuclear program. In return, the United States was seeking assurances that Saudi Arabia will distance itself from China — Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner — economically and militarily. Washington was also seeking to end Saudi Arabia’s oil production cuts, which are increasing oil prices globally. 

Expert Analysis 

“A U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be a game-changer in promoting regional peace, prosperity, and stability. But it’s in no one’s interest to give Riyadh domestic uranium enrichment as part of this deal. That will only pave the way for a Saudi nuclear weapons program and unleash nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Instead, the Biden administration should snap back UN sanctions on Iran and re-establish zero enrichment as the international nonproliferation standard.” Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO 

“The key obstacle to a deal today remains the same as it was three months ago: not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but instead Riyadh’s demand for enrichment on Saudi soil. When the Biden administration says ‘no’ to Saudi enrichment, Riyadh’s predictable response is to ask why Washington supports enrichment for Iran but not for Saudi Arabia. Rather than tying itself in knots looking for a solution, the White House should just say, ‘You’re right, we oppose Iran’s enrichment program too and we are snapping back UN sanctions to prove it.’” Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor 

Palestinian Statehood 

The outline of a potential deal remains similar to what Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman proposed in March. Saudi requests for a commitment to creating a Palestinian state may be difficult for Israel’s right-wing government to accept. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made Saudi Arabia-Israel normalization a campaign promise, downplayed the importance of such concessions during an interview with Bloomberg News on August 7, calling them a “check box” compared to other demands. 

Nuclear Enrichment 

Other requests, such as assistance with a civilian nuclear program that would include uranium enrichment capabilities, are being met with opposition from U.S. and Israeli lawmakers, who view domestic enrichment capabilities in Saudi Arabia as a potential trigger for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. The United States has insisted that Saudi Arabia adhere to the “gold standard” of nuclear nonproliferation, renouncing the enrichment of uranium on Saudi soil, just as the U.S. civil nuclear agreement with the United Arab Emirates precluded enrichment on Emirati soil.  

The United States and Saudi Arabia: A Possible Path Forward,” by Bradley Bowman, Orde Kittrie, and Ryan Brobst 

The Road to Israel-Saudi Normalization Runs Through Washington,” by Richard Goldberg 

Saudi Arabia, Iran Agree to Reestablish Diplomatic Ties,” FDD Flash Brief 


Arab Politics Gulf States Israel Palestinian Politics