U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Saudi Arabia to consider normalizing relations with Israel as he met with the Gulf country’s foreign minister, also saying that Washington supports a “robust program of arms sales” to it.
Pompeo said he raised the Abraham Accords, a U.S.-brokered agreement to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel, with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud at a meeting on Wednesday at the U.S. State Department.
“We hope Saudi Arabia will consider normalizing its relationships as well, and we want to thank them for the assistance they’ve had in the success of the Abraham Accords so far,” Pompeo said, adding that he hopes the nation will encourage Palestinian leaders or the Palestinian Authority to return to negotiations with Israel.
Riyadh has quietly acquiesced to the UAE and Bahrain deals—though it has stopped short of endorsing them—and has signaled it is not ready to take action itself.
The Abraham Accords foster regional cooperation in the Middle East “to counter Iranian influence and generate prosperity,” Pompeo said.
“Iran’s destabilizing behavior threatens Saudi Arabia’s security and disrupts global commerce,” Pompeo explained citing Iran’s ballistic missile attacks on Saudi oil facilities a year ago. Also rockets, drones, and other lethal weapons used by Yemen’s Houthis in ongoing attacks on the Kingdom were supplied by the regime in Tehran, Pompeo added.
To counter Iranian malign activity the United States supports “a robust program of arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” which will help to protect Saudi people and sustain American jobs, Pompeo said.
Al Saud said that the Iranian regime’s financial and material support to terrorist groups, “including in Yemen where the Houthis have launched more than 300 Iranian-made ballistic missiles and drones towards the Kingdom,” possesses a common threat that he and Pompeo will discuss and address.
“Their development of their nuclear program, ballistic missiles, and their malign activities represent a grave danger to the region and the world. We are both committed to counter and deter Iran’s destabilizing behavior,” Al Saud said.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, drew up a 2002 initiative under which Arab nations offered to normalize ties with Israel in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last month signed agreements toward normalizing relations with Israel in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran.
The United States is trying to encourage more Gulf countries to strike similar accords with Israel, as the UAE and Bahrain did at the Sept. 15 ceremony in Washington.
The deal will normalize commercial, security, and diplomatic relations between Israel and Bahrain, as well as Israel and the UAE.
The United Arab Emirates became only the third—after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994—to fully normalize relations with Israel. Sixteen of the 22 members of the Arab League, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia, do not recognize Israel.
Critics have noted that the peace deals ignore Palestinians, but it is hoped that the deals will bring forth better Arab–Israeli relations.
Pompeo explained in an interview in September that the success in brokering the Abraham Accords owes to President Donald Trump’s different approach from the common understanding on how “how to create security for the Middle East.”
First, the Trump administration recognized that “that the central challenge in the Middle East wasn’t the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but rather the challenge that is presented by the Islamic Republic of Iran and their anti-Semitic terrorist campaign all around the world,” Pompeo said.
“The second thing that enabled this was that President Trump has also shown that when we build out a coalition and have partners, whether that’s the Emiratis or the Bahrainis or our longtime allies, the Israelis, the United States will actually act, will take action,” Pompeo said.
“The United States continues to stand with our Arab partners,” Pompeo said adding that the United States will still maintain its presence in the Middle East but “force adjustments” will be made in the future.
“The objective isn’t to be present” but to provide the security assurances to the people in the region, Pompeo said, and the U.S. efforts to deny the Iranian regime money and wealth will contribute to the regional stability.
Ivan Pentchoukov and Reuters contributed to this report.