WASHINGTON: Saudi Arabia is getting closer “every day” to a landmark deal normalising diplomatic relations with Israel, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said.
The Crown Prince also said his country will be compelled to seek a nuclear bomb if its arch-rival Iran obtains one. “If they get one, we have to get one,” he said in excerpts released by Fox News from an interview that aired Wednesday.
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Asked about the talks on establishing ties with Israel, Crown Prince Mohammad denied reports that the kingdom has frozen the negotiations because Israel is refusing to make concessions to the Palestinians.
“There is support from the President Biden administration to get to that point” of an agreement, he told Special Report with Bret Baier. “For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part,” and “good negotiations” are continuing.
The US, Saudi Arabia and Israel are engaged in complex negotiations in which Washington would offer security guarantees to Riyadh, the Saudis would normalice relations with Israel and Israel would take actions aimed at preserving the possibility of a Palestinian state.
Saudi-Israel normalisation remains “difficult,” with the process fraught over specifics, including the Palestinian issue, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week.
Suspension of talks denied
The interview aired shortly after President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while both were in New York for the meeting of the UN General Assembly. Biden raised concerns about the far-right Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians and urged Netanyahu to take steps to improve conditions in the West Bank at a time of heightened violence in the territory.
Netanyahu’s office said the meeting “mostly dealt with ways to establish an historic peace agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which could greatly advance an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and facilitate the establishment of an economic corridor to link Asia, the Middle East and Europe.”
On working with Netanyahu...
Asked during the interview about working with someone as conservative as Netanyahu, Prince Mohammad said: “If we have a breakthrough, reaching a deal that gives the Palestinians their needs and (making) the region calm, we’ve got to work with whoever’s there.”
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters before the interview was shown that it was best for the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia “to speak to how close they think they are, and where they think they are” in the process.
“Obviously, we encourage normalisation. We think it’s good not just for Israel and Saudi Arabia, we think it’s good for the whole region,” Kirby said.
Crown Prince Mohammad was also questioned about the possibility of Iran eventually building a nuclear weapon and said “we are concerned of any country getting a nuclear weapon” and that that if Iran were to get one, Saudi Arabia will seek to do the same: “We will have to get one.”
‘It was a mistake’
He said on Fox News Channel of the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, that “we tried to reform the security system to be sure that these kinds of mistakes doesn’t happen again.”
“It was a mistake. It was painful,” the Crown Prince said, while insisting that “everyone involved” served jail time.
Prince Mohammad was also asked about Jared Kushner, an ex-White House adviser and former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law who secured a $2 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to jump start his new private equity firm. Relationship with Biden ‘really amazing’
The Crown Prince said “we look” for global investment opportunities and that PIF keeps its commitments to investors — planning to do so even if Trump wins another term as president next year.
Saudi Arabia has made major progress in winding down its devastating war with Iranian-backed Al Houthi rebels in Yemen, this week hosting a rebel delegation in the capital, Riyadh.
It spearheaded the return of Syria to the Arab League, and in March agreed to a Chinese-brokered deal to restore diplomatic relations with Iran.
The Cronn Prince’s far-reaching social reforms have transformed the kingdom from a conservative state to an aspiring entertainment powerhouse, investing billions of dollars in everything from top soccer stars and golf tournaments to video games.
Crown Prince Mohammad said during the interview that “the agenda between Saudi Arabia and America today is really interesting” and characterised his country’s relationship with Biden as “really amazing.”
He was also asked about critics who have accused Saudi Arabia of investing heavily in golf and other sports in attempted “sportswashing,” or spending to improve the kingdom’s political image abroad. The Crown Prince said he wasn’t bothered by such charges and if sports investments continue to grow Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product significantly, then his country would “continue to do sportswashing.”