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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, has said Palestinians would be “very important” in any deal to normalise ties with Israel, as the two countries move closer to a historic agreement.
In his first interview with an American TV channel since 2019, Prince Mohammed said the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia were making progress on talks towards normalising relations, but indicated the future of Palestine remained a sticking point.
“For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part,” he said in an excerpt from an interview with Fox News released on Wednesday. “We hope that will reach a place, that it will ease the life of the Palestinians, get Israel as a player in the Middle East.”
The crown prince, a son of the Saudi king but the country’s day-to-day ruler, dismissed reports that Riyadh had pulled out of the discussions.
“Everyday we get closer,” he said.
Prince Mohammed’s comments come after months of negotiations led by the White House, which is pursuing a long-shot push to bring tacit relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia into the open, ending decades of tension that have bedevilled Middle Eastern politics and vexed successive US presidents.
As part of the deal, Washington and Riyadh would forge some sort of defence pact, Washington would offer the kingdom civil nuclear co-operation and Israel would make some kind of concessions to the Palestinians in their quest for statehood.
But Prince Mohammed also had a warning for the US, which is also seeking to contain the nuclear ambitions of Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran, reiterating that Riyadh would secure its own warhead if Tehran acquired an atomic weapon of its own.
“If they get one, we have to get one,” the crown prince said.
Prince Mohammed’s assertion may prove contentious in the US Congress, which will have to approve the nuclear co-operation portion of any agreement between Washington and Riyadh.
Talks between Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia picked up pace over the summer, and President Joe Biden met Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, on the sidelines of the United Nations meeting in New York on Wednesday to discuss the effort.
Yet despite the flurry of diplomatic activity and positive comments emanating from the parties, the project has long odds.
Saudi security and nuclear demands will be difficult for the US to negotiate and require a greenlight from a sceptical Congress. Israel could be unwilling to give the concessions to Palestinians that Riyadh may seek.
Alongside the normalisation effort, the US has also sought to breathe new life into diplomacy with Iran on its nuclear programme. Earlier this week Washington and Tehran swapped prisoners as a confidence-building measure that diplomats hope could lead to eventual talks on Iran’s nuclear activities and other issues.