The Saudis are fuming over White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby’s attempt to separate a potential ceasefire deal in Gaza from eventual Saudi-Israeli normalization. The Times of Israel reported this morning that Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry issued a stern statement Feb. 6 rejecting what it claimed was Kirby’s suggestion that Riyadh is prepared to normalize relations with Israel before there is a ceasefire in Gaza and without progress toward Palestinian statehood.
During a press gaggle at the White House yesterday, a reporter asked Kirby: “When America is talking about a hostage deal, is it part of a bigger deal of normalization with Saudi Arabia, or are we talking about two different paths here?”
“No, these are two different things,” Kirby said in reply. On the one track is the effort for a hostage deal and “an extended pause,” while on the other are discussions about trying to move forward with a normalization arrangement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. “So those discussions [on normalization] are ongoing as well,” Kirby said. “We certainly received positive feedback from both sides that they’re willing to continue to have those discussions. But that is a separate track and not related specifically to trying to get this extended humanitarian pause in place. Both are really important though.”
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said that isn’t true. “Regarding the discussions between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America on the Arab-Israeli peace process, and in light of what has been attributed to the U.S. National Security [Council] spokesperson, the ministry of foreign affairs affirms that the position of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been steadfast on the Palestinian issue and the necessity that the brotherly Palestinian people obtain their legitimate rights,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said, in a statement it posted on X. “The Kingdom has communicated its firm position to the U.S. administration that there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognized on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip stops and all Israeli occupation forces withdraw from the Gaza Strip.”
The Times notes that the statement was issued just one day after Secretary of State Blinken met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, in a possible indication that the sit-down did not go well.