Saudi Arabia has paused diplomacy to normalize ties with Israel amid the violence between Hamas militants and Israeli forces, people familiar with the matter said, in a major blow to President Joe Biden’s ambitions for the Middle East.
(Bloomberg) — Saudi Arabia has paused diplomacy to normalize ties with Israel amid the violence between Hamas militants and Israeli forces, people familiar with the matter said, in a major blow to President Joe Biden’s ambitions for the Middle East.
Saudi officials communicated Riyadh’s position to the US in recent days, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks. They described the move as a pause and not as an end to the diplomacy. A U.S. official, who also asked not to be identified, said the administration continues to be in touch with the Saudis and hasn’t been told that the initiative was being paused.
Suspending the talks runs counter to the Biden administration’s push to proceed with normalization talks even in the wake of the latest violence, which began with a Hamas attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people last weekend.
Israel has responded with airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, killing hundreds, and is threatening a major ground war to eradicate Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the US and the EU.
Reuters reported earlier that Saudi Arabia was suspending plans to normalize ties with Israel and is engaging with Iran to prevent a broader surge in violence across the region.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said he had nothing to confirm but said further diplomacy was up to Saudi Arabia and Israel.
“We understand normalization is about sovereign decisions that these nations have to make for themselves,” Kirby said. “That’s not for the United States to dictate to them.”
The Saudi decision underscores just how quickly the Hamas attack and Israel’s response has upended the politics of the Middle East and threatened efforts to deepen Israel’s ties with other nations and blunt Iran’s influence. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on a trip to the region and plans a stop in Saudi Arabia, where he’ll meet with leaders in an effort to keep the diplomacy on track.
In a statement, a State Department spokesperson said the US is focused on supporting Israel but remains committed to efforts for a more stable Middle East.
–With assistance from Courtney McBride, Justin Sink and Jennifer Jacobs.
(Updates with US official saying diplomacy hasn’t been paused in 2nd paragraph.)
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