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U.S. and Saudi Arabia near potentially historic security deal

U.S. medics trapped in Gaza share testimonies
U.S. medics trapped in Gaza share emotional testimonies 03:45

The United States and Saudi Arabia are "days away" from concluding the documents that would forge a historic bilateral agreement that has long been a top priority for President Joe Biden as it would begin a parallel track to normalize relations between the Kingdom and Israel, a source very familiar with the matter told CBS News on Sunday.

A U.S. official confirmed that a lot of progress was made Saturday in a meeting between National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, a city in the kingdom's far east that's home to its state-run oil giant, the Saudi Arabian Oil Co. known as Saudi Aramco.

In a statement released overnight Saturday, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the draft agreement as "nearly final." 

The first component of the deal includes a series of agreements between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, including defense guarantees and civil nuclear cooperation. The Biden administration would solidify its ties to Saudi Arabia at a time when adversary China is attempting to expand its influence in the Middle East.

A second component would normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, but that is contingent on a third complicated and aspirational component that would forge a pathway to a Palestinian state.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently described that part of the vision as requiring both "calm in Gaza" and a "credible pathway to a Palestinian state." Sullivan, who arrived in the region on Saturday, and other Biden officials also traveled to Israel on Sunday and are expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the proposed deal.

A source very familiar with the Kingdom's position told CBS that Saudi Arabia has made clear that nothing can move forward without a two-state solution that includes Palestinian self-rule in both the West Bank and Gaza.  Putting aside the Palestinian issue is nearly impossible now due to the widespread outcry in the Arab world over the immense humanitarian toll on Palestinians in Gaza since Israel invaded the 25-mile territory in pursuit of the Hamas terrorists who killed 1,200 people on Oct 7.

Since that time Biden has frequently cited his belief that Hamas launched that brutal attack to stop his earlier attempts to forge a Saudi-Israel normalization deal that would not have prioritized the Palestinians.

Given Netanyahu's stated opposition to a Palestinian state, it is unclear what he will agree to but the domestic political crisis in Israel is building pressure on him. Two of the three unity war cabinet ministers have publicly questioned Netanyahu's Gaza strategy this past week, and Minister Benny Gantz threatened to quit by June 8 if key decisions were not made. Gantz has already called for elections in September and is widely seen as a potential future prime minister himself. In recent days, Gantz has been speaking with Sullivan about the Saudi deal as well according to a spokesperson.

Biden administration officials hope that the politically embattled Netanyahu will view the significant security and diplomatic win of normalizing with Saudi Arabia as an opportunity and a reason to make a compromise on Palestinian issues despite the danger of alienating right-wing members whose support is critical to the survival of his fragile coalition government.

Some of those nationalist right-wing ministers seek Israeli settlement and control of the Palestinian-majority West Bank and Gaza and refer to them in Biblical terms as Judea and Samaria.

There are also domestic complications in the U.S. The source very familiar acknowledged to CBS News that the "pressure is on" to complete the deal given that there are only a few weeks left in the Congressional calendar, and a security deal would have to go to lawmakers for their approval. The presumption has been that Democrats were skeptical of the Kingdom for its human rights abuses and Prince Mohammad would be more likely to green-light the agreement and its nuclear component if asked to do so by a Democratic president.

Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham - a Trump ally - has also been traveling to the region and pressing for this diplomatic deal which builds on the architecture of the Trump-era Abraham Accords, which helped normalize relations between Israel and many of its regional neighbors but not Saudi Arabia. While Trump could theoretically also pursue an Israel-Saudi deal if he wins the general election in November, it may be harder for him to persuade Democrats to vote for it. During his 2024 presidential campaign, Trump has frequently touted his legacy in the region.

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