Integrated Mideast defense system still only an idea, says US official

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A senior US administration official said on Thursday that there was no framework yet for an integrated Middle East air and missile defense system but that the US believes there is potential for a multilateral regional approach for security.

President Joe Biden raised the matter during a visit to Saudi Arabia earlier this month where he held a summit with leaders from nine Arab states following a trip to Israel, but left with no public Arab support for a regional security axis.

“It's an idea right now, there's no framework for it ... but it was important for the president to raise the issue of better regional integrated air and missile defense,” said the administration official, who declined to be named.

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“We think, particularly given the increasing threat of Iran's ballistic missiles, there's great promise here in having a more networked, more integrated, more cooperative approach to air missile defense.”

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been frustrated by US conditions on arms sales. The two countries were also irked by their exclusion from indirect US-Iran talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear pact they see as flawed for not addressing Iran's missile program and regional behavior.

Israel, which shares their concern over Iran, encouraged Biden's trip to Jeddah, hoping it would foster a warming between Saudi Arabia and Israel as part of a wider Arab rapprochement after the UAE and Bahrain forged ties with Israel.

During the trip, Saudi Arabia announced it would open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more overflights to and from Israel. The Saudi foreign minister later said this was not a precursor to further steps and that he was not aware of any discussions on a Gulf-Israeli defense alliance.

Iran accused Washington of using “Iranophobia” to create regional tension during Biden's visit.

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