Thursday, March 4, 2021

Saudi Arabia denies ‘secret meeting’ with Israel’s Netanyahu

Netanyahu did not deny the trip took place, saying only that he was 'working on broadening the circle of peace'.

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Saudi Arabia is denying reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Gulf kingdom on Sunday, according to Al-Monitor.

“I have seen press reports about a purported meeting between HRH the Crown Prince and Israeli officials during the recent visit by Secretary Pompeo,” Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, tweeted on Monday. “No such meeting occurred. The only officials present were American and Saudi.”

But according to Israeli news outlets, Netanyahu and Mossad spy chief Yossi Cohen departed from Tel Aviv on Sunday in a private jet headed for Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, where the crown prince was meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the city of Neom.

Israel Education Minister Yoav Galant confirmed the news, telling Army Radio the trip was an “amazing achievement”.

An unnamed Saudi adviser told The Wall Street Journal that Israeli officials attended talks arranged by Pompeo, during which the 35-year-old prince and Netanyahu discussed Iran and a possible normalisation of ties.

For his part, Netanyahu didn’t deny the trip took place when asked about it on Monday. The Israeli premier said only that he was “working on broadening the circle of peace”.

Pompeo is in Saudi Arabia for the final leg of a Middle East tour that also took him to Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Qatar.

According to the State Department, Pompeo and Prince Mohammed met on Monday to discuss Gulf unity. No mention was made of Netanyahu.

President Donald Trump has said Saudi Arabia would be among “five or six” countries to follow the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which in September signed US-brokered agreements normalising ties with the Jewish state. In a positive sign, the kingdom announced in September it would open its airspace to commercial flights from Israel.

But last month, Prince Faisal downplayed reports that Saudi Arabia would be next to recognise Israel. During a virtual event hosted by the Washington Institute, Riyadh’s top diplomat said Palestinians and Israelis at the negotiating table should be the priority of peace efforts before “eventual normalisation” with Israel.

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