US and Saudi officials are discussing the terms of a mutual defense treaty that would resemble the strong military pacts the United States has with its close allies Japan and South Korea, a central part of President Biden’s high-profile diplomacy to get Saudi Arabia to normalize relations. with Israel, according to US officials.
Under such an agreement, the United States and Saudi Arabia would generally commit to providing military support if the other country is attacked in the region or on Saudi territory. Discussion on term modeling after treaties in East Asiaconsidered among the strongest the United States has outside its European pacts, have not been previously reported.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, considers a mutual defense agreement with the United States the most important element in his talks with the Biden administration about Israel, current and former US officials said. Saudi officials say a strong defense deal would help deter potential attacks by Iran or its armed partners, even as the two regional rivals restore diplomatic ties.
Prince Mohammed is also asking the Biden administration to help his country develop a civilian nuclear program, which some US officials say could be a cover for a nuclear weapons program against Iran.
Any treaty with Saudi Arabia that is similar to America’s pacts with East Asian allies is sure to draw strong objections from Congress. Some senior US lawmakers, including top Democrats, see the Saudi government and Prince Mohammed as unreliable partners with little regard for US interests or human rights.
The deal would also raise questions about whether Mr. Biden will push the United States more militarily toward the Middle East. And such a treaty would also run counter to the Biden administration’s stated goal of refocusing US military resources and combat capabilities away from the region and deterring China specifically in the Asia-Pacific region.
US discussions with Saudi Arabia and Israel revolved mainly around Prince Mohammed’s demands on the Biden administration. That diplomacy is expected to come to a head on Wednesday, when Biden plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Mr. Biden touted the benefits of normalizing the nation’s relationship with Israel in a wide-ranging speech at the United Nations on Tuesday morning.
The U.S. military has bases and troops in both Japan and South Korea, but U.S. officials say there are currently no serious discussions about having a large contingent of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia under any new defense deal. The Pentagon has less than 2,700 US troops in the kingdom, it claims letter the White House sent to Congress in June.
Mr. Biden’s push for a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel is a gambit that would have been hard to imagine not long ago. During his 2020 presidential campaign, he pledged to make Saudi Arabia an “outcast”. And brokering a deal could be a political boon for Mr Netanyahu’s far-right government, which has been sharply criticized by US officials for its efforts to weaken Israel’s judiciary and its support for settlement building in Palestinian territories.
But U.S. officials said the diplomatic pact would be an important symbolic easing of Arab-Israeli tensions and could also have geopolitical significance for the United States. He argues that Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement with the United States could move the kingdom further out of China’s orbit and blunt Beijing’s efforts to expand its influence in the Middle East.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a public address on Friday that the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel would be “a transformational event in the Middle East and far beyond.” But he said reaching an agreement between the parties “remains a difficult proposition” and that an agreement was far from certain.
The State Department declined to comment on details of the discussions for this article.
White House officials in recent months have briefed influential Democratic lawmakers that the administration would have to convince them to approve the deal in order to get the necessary 67 votes in the Senate, or two-thirds of that chamber.
The majority of Senate Democrats voted on several occasions to limit arms sales to Washington and other security cooperation with Riyadh, protested the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen that was supported by American weapons, and the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a murder that the U.S. the spy agencies judged, the prince ordered. (He denied direct involvement.)
The Saudi-led war in Yemen, which Prince Mohammed began in 2015, has resulted in mass killings of civilians and what the United Nations has called the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis.
Democratic lawmakers are also pressing the Biden administration over reports that Saudi border forces recently killed hundreds or thousands of African migrants trying to enter the kingdom from Yemen. Human Rights Watch she posted a message in August about atrocities. U.S. officials cannot say with certainty that the forces doing the killing were not provided with any U.S. training or weapons. Saudi Arabia said the reports were “baseless”.
The separate defense treaties that the United States made with Japan and South Korea were made after devastating wars in the mid-20th century and as the Cold War escalated, prompting the United States to form alliances around the world to counter the global Soviet presence. .
The first US security treaty with Japan was sealed in 1951, during the US occupation of Japan after World War II, and then revised in 1960. It allows the United States to keep armed forces there, and says that if any attack is made against an element of either of these two nations in the territories under Japan, each country “will act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.” “
Michael Green, senior director for Asia at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, said the two treaties were “pretty ironclad” in terms of the US military commitment in the event of hostilities and bringing both countries under the US nuclear deterrent. umbrella. Practically speaking, the United States has closer military ties with South Korea because the two countries have a joint command on the peninsula.
Japan was a defeated and demilitarized nation when it and the United States entered into their treaty, and U.S. officials at the time did not envision an attack on Japan or another country anytime soon, Mr. Green said. Because of ongoing tensions in the Middle East — and the fact that Saudi Arabia is involved in the war in Yemen — the Senate’s approval of a Japan-style treaty would likely set a “much higher political bar,” he added.
However, Julian Ku, professor of international and constitutional law at Hofstra University, he wrote that mutual defense language in the treaty with Japan and in treaties the United States has with other allies in the region, including PhilippinesAustralia and New Zealand, is not as strong as is commonly believed.
“The contract is intentionally vague to allow for different responses to different circumstances,” Ku said. in email. “If you compare that to the language in NATO that specifically refers to treaty assistance for “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force,” it is striking how weakened the language of the Korea-Japan treaty is.
“So one could imagine a US treaty with Saudi Arabia that is structured like a Japanese treaty that technically does not require US action but is understood as a serious commitment in the event of an attack,” he added.
White House and State Department officials have made numerous trips to Saudi Arabia since May as part of a push for normalization and have kept Mr. Netanyahu and his aides informed of Prince Mohammed’s demands. In addition to the burning issues surrounding a potential US-Saudi security treaty and civilian nuclear cooperation, questions abound about what the Saudis would demand from Israel in terms of concessions to the Palestinians. Prince Mohammed has not spoken much about it in public, but his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, is a strong supporter of Palestinian rights.
Some American commentators on Middle East politics have called on the Biden administration to refrain from any deal that would give the Israeli government a political victory that could help it stay in power.