The Saudis say they are increasingly ready for a peace treaty with Israel and view the recently-signed “Abraham Accords” as a “positive” development. Their first priority, however, is getting the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.

At the same time, the Kingdom is deeply worried about the nuclear and terrorist threat posed by the Iranian regime and wants to dramatically strengthen the U.S.-Saudi strategic alliance.

Those were the headlines coming out of a conversation held in Washington on Thursday by the Saudi foreign minister. Backing up these headlines, ALL ARAB NEWS reported yesterday the findings of a poll that show the Saudi people are increasingly receptive to “normalization” with Israel and they view President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” for Middle East Peace favorably.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy – a non-profit, non-partisan think tank – on Thursday held a virtual “Policy Forum” with Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, the foreign minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Rob Satloff, executive director of the Institute, conducted the interview.

(Photo: Saudi Foreign Ministry Twitter feed)

Satloff noted in his introduction that Faisal will mark his first anniversary as foreign minister this month, and that previously, the Prince served as Saudi ambassador to Germany, prior to which he was posted as an advisor at the Saudi embassy in Washington.

The 47-minute event (which can be viewed in its entirety here) began with some opening remarks by the foreign minister, followed by a discussion between him and Satloff.

Faisal began by noting that Saudi Arabia will host the G20 Summit next month – the first time the Kingdom has done so – though it will now have to be conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 crisis.

While the global pandemic will be the focus of the summit, there will no doubt be a heightened focus on Saudi foreign policy – and its “Vision 2030” strategy for sweeping economic and social reforms at home.

That said, Faisal quickly turned to the seriousness of the Iranian threat.

“Iran maintains a single-minded focus on undermining the health and safety of nations and communities, openly supporting terrorist groups, terrorist proxies, armed militias and terrorist regimes, interjecting itself wherever it can to create chaos and instability, as it has done is so many places like Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and as far away as South America,” Faisal said. “It seems wherever you find struggles in the region, you find Iran.”

He placed the blame for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen squarely on Iran and its “terrorist proxy,” the Houthi rebels, who have launched “more than 300 ballistic missile attacks” against cities, airports and civilian targets throughout Saudi Arabia.

Faisal warned of the “threat of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and the continued exports of its revolutionary agenda through hostile and terrorist behavior.”

“Our partnership with the U.S. is critical in addressing Iran’s malignant behavior,” he stressed. “We are committed to working with the U.S. so that Iran does not obtain a nuclear bomb – ever.”

Faisal praised the “maximum pressure” of the Trump administration and said he believes it is working very well to reduce the financial resources Iran has to advance terror and instability.

Both in his prepared remarks, as well as in his conversation with Satloff, the foreign minister spent a great deal of time laying out the Saudi “vision for peace and security in the region,” saying it includes a far more robust agreement with Iran to cease its nuclear program and terrorist activity as well as “to secure a just and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

He pointed out that over the years the Kingdom has put forth proposals to protect the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” and “the security of the people of Israel and Palestine.”

“That was and remains our goal,” he said.

“We welcome the recent efforts [by the Trump administration] to bring the parties together towards a comprehensive peace plan” and said “all other things will follow from that,” implying that the Saudis may not be willing to sign a peace treaty with Israel prior to the Palestinians doing so.

He said the Kingdom believes a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal “is possible, if we continue to talk, to come together” to work for an agreement “that works for all parties.”

But he added that “negotiations require partners on both sides of the table” who are “willing to talk in good faith.”

Satloff highlighted two highly significant developments: the fact that the Kingdom recently congratulated the UAE and Bahrain on normalizing relations with Israel and permitted commercial aircraft to fly over Saudi air space between Israel and these Gulf peace partners.

Will we see more “incremental steps” by the Kingdom to advance normalization with Israel coming? Satloff asked.

“I believe the focus now needs to be getting the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table,” Faisal emphasized.

However, he was quick to add that “we are committed to the process of peace” and the Kingdom sees Arab-Israeli peace “as a strategic necessity in the region” because the conflict has been “a festering wound” for too long.

“Part of that is an eventual normalization of relations with Israel as envisaged in the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Faisal said the Kingdom wants “normalization with Israel” but “we also need to have a Palestinian state and a Palestinian-Israeli peace plan.”

He praised the Emirati and Bahraini peace deals as “positive” because “one of the things they delivered was taking annexation at least off the table for the time being, which was a significant threat to the prospects for peace.”

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