Israel and Saudi Arabia are a long way from a normalization agreement that would involve a defense treaty and a civilian nuclear program from the United States, US President Joe Biden said in a CNN interview broadcast on Sunday.
US officials have been negotiating in a bid to reach an elusive normalization deal between the two countries.
“We’re a long way from there. We got a lot to talk about,” Biden said in an interview with “Fareed Zakaria’s GPS.”
Israel’s energy minister expressed opposition last month to the idea of Saudi Arabia developing a civilian nuclear program as part of any US-mediated forging of relations between the countries.
Biden pointed to Saudi Arabia’s decision on the eve of his visit to the kingdom last summer to open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more overflights to and from Israel.
The US president also noted efforts toward a permanent ceasefire in Yemen.
“So, we’re making progress in the region. And it depends upon the conduct and what is asked of us for them to recognize Israel,” Biden said in the interview.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think they have much of a problem with Israel. And whether or not we would provide a means by which they could have civilian nuclear power and/or be a guarantor of their security, that’s - I think that’s a little way off.”
Israel has said it expected to be consulted by Washington on a US-Saudi deal affecting its national security. Israel, which is outside the voluntary Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has no nuclear energy, is widely believed to have atomic weaponry.
Pointing to precedents like Iraq and Libya, Israel has long worried that potentially hostile neighbors could use civilian nuclear energy and other projects developed under the 1970 NPT as cover for clandestine bombmaking.
Public fury grew in the Arab world last week after one of Israel’s biggest military operations in the occupied West Bank in years, a raid in a Jenin refugee camp, a Palestinian militant stronghold.
Saudia Arabia on Tuesday joined other Arab League nations in condemning the raid, which killed 12 Palestinians. Even before the latest violence, Riyadh said normalization is not possible until Palestinian statehood goals have been addressed.
Israel’s religious-nationalist government has acknowledged setbacks in the normalization efforts amid Saudi censure of its policies toward the Palestinians.
Israel Foreign Minister Eli Cohen sounded a hopeful note on Sunday about the rare participation of an Israeli delegation at a Riyadh-hosted football video-gaming tournament over the weekend.
“Ultimately we want to reach a state of full relations - meaning cooperation on economic matters, intelligence, tourism, flights, et cetera - and I reckon this will happen sooner or later,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.
The Israel Football Association, which is managing the delegation at the FIFAe World Cup Riyadh 2023, said its participation was enabled by Riyadh’s agreement to admit all comers - not any arrangement between the Saudi and Israeli governments.