Home An Israel-Saudi deal isn’t imminent

An Israel-Saudi deal isn’t imminent

An Israel-Saudi deal isn’t imminent


With help from Eric Bazail-Eimil and Nahal Toosi

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There sure is a lot of excitement about a potential U.S.-brokered Israel-Saudi Arabia deal, but even the Biden administration insists an agreement isn’t close to happening.

The hubbub stems from headlines and news stories playing up the discussions around such a pact. Per the Wall Street Journal’s DION NISSENBAUM, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a handshake understanding on the “broad contours” of an accord. In effect, Israel’s hard-right government would offer concessions on Palestinian statehood. Saudi Arabia would receive security guarantees from the U.S. — especially against Iran — while promising to limit its growing relationship with China.

All this would be in service of the ultimate prize: Jerusalem and Riyadh normalizing relations with one another, ending decades of enmity and giving President JOE BIDEN a major foreign policy win.

But that and other pieces match what Biden previously disclosed to the New York Times’ TOM FRIEDMAN. U.S. officials and insiders told us months of painstaking negotiations remain before anything is finalized — if it ever gets to that point.

“The reporting has left some people with the impression that the discussions are farther along and closer to some sense of certainty than they actually are,” NSC spokesperson JOHN KIRBY told reporters today. “There is no agreed-to set of negotiations, there’s no agreed-to framework to codify normalization or any of the other security considerations.”

In fairness, even the ballyhooed stories provide multiple reasons for skepticism.

Nissenbaum’s piece cites the “long odds” of a final accord, and a FELICIA SCHWARTZ-led reporting team at the Financial Times notes “Saudi Arabia’s security demands will also be hard for the U.S. to satisfy — especially Riyadh’s desire for a pact with Washington that would guarantee U.S. assistance if the kingdom came under attack.”

That doesn’t even include the controversy over Saudi’s desire for America’s help with a civil nuclear program that some critics worry would inevitably lead to Riyadh developing a nuclear weapon. The FT, however, reports that Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN “indicated that the U.S. was open to Saudi nuclear and security demands” during a recent meeting with Crown Prince MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN. Kirby declined to comment on the administration’s openness to those or other elements of the talks.

In a sign that Israel may not be fully on board with a Saudi civilian nuclear program, ELI COHEN, Israel’s foreign minister, wrote in the WSJ Tuesday that the U.S. should put Riyadh under its nuclear umbrella as part of a normalization deal, similar to how Washington supports South Korea against North Korea. That agreement has until now kept Seoul from making its own nuclear weapon.

Axios’ BARAK RAVID also reports that Israel wants its own security guarantees from the U.S. as part of an overall framework. (Call it the Oprah Principle of such negotiations: you get a security guarantee, you get a security guarantee …)

Add to all this the likelihood that Congress — where there’s tons of bipartisan skepticism about Saudi Arabia — will have a say on aspects of the mega deal, and it’s clear we’re a long way from the balloon drop moment.

“There’s really no new information here,” said RICHARD GOLDBERG, a former NSC official in the Trump administration now at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The key verticals of a deal … remains the same as it was three months ago when talks began in earnest.”

Still, even if a mega-deal can’t be reached, the diplomatic effort could result in smaller agreements that the administration will certainly announce — just not yet.

The Inbox

NIGER JUNTA BLASTS FRANCE: Niger’s military junta accused France of violating its airspace today, though it provided no evidence for the charge, Reuters’ BOUREIMA BALIMA and ABDEL-KADER MAZOU report.

The video statement by AMADOU ABDRAMANE came as a former Nigerien rebel leader started a movement to oppose the junta and before a West African bloc on Thursday discusses military options to remove the coup leaders.

“Anti-French rhetoric has been a feature of other coups in the region over the past two years, including in Mali and Burkina Faso,” per Reuters.

Meanwhile, Niger’s ousted President MOHAMED BAZOUM is low on food under house arrest two weeks into the coup, per the Associated Press’ SAM MEDNICK. “The family is living without electricity and only has rice and canned goods left to eat,” an adviser told the AP. “Bazoum remains in good health for now and will never resign.”

The U.S. remains dismayed at the situation, calling for calm and for Bazoum’s return. In the meantime, officials are upset that one of the coup leaders is Brig. Gen. MOUSSA SALAOU BARMOU, who the U.S. military “has courted for almost 30 years,” the WSJ’s MICHAEL PHILLIPS reports. He attended the National Defense University in Washington and has dined with American officers at his home. Barmou is currently serving as a key intermediary between the U.S. and the junta.

NatSec Daily asked Kirby if the U.S. was reviewing to whom it offers military training based on multiple recent coups, including the one in Niger. He said he wasn’t aware if the Pentagon was conducting a review, but he stated “as a part of that training, there is specific time spent on things like democracy support and the rule of law and anti-corruption efforts.”

UKRAINE MOVING SLOWLY: Yesterday, NatSec Daily wrote about how Ukraine’s counteroffensive isn’t going as speedily as many in Kyiv and Washington would like. YURIY SAK, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister, provided us with some insights following publication.

“Nobody is predicting concrete timelines,” he told us. Sak acknowledged that Kyiv’s forces changed their tactics to protect troops and preserve equipment, elongating the timeline for a possible breakthrough. “The situation is difficult but the most important thing is the initiative is on our side and we keep pressurizing along the frontline, east and south. That’s why the situation can change.”

Sak’s comments echo a general view held in the Biden administration that the counteroffensive is just going to be slow, more of an attrition-style fight than a blitzkrieg. Where once there was confidence in a quick, dramatic victory, there is now resignation that the operation will be ongoing for a long, long time.

MARKING MOSCOW: Two armed drones heading toward Moscow were shot down by Russian air defenses today as drone attacks against the capital have surged, Al Jazeera reports.

Russian officials again blamed the aerial assaults on Ukraine, which hasn’t taken responsibility for the strikes in recent weeks. It’s at least the third attempted drone attack on Moscow this week, and Russian forces said they shot down seven last week.

Hours after the attack, a major explosion at a factory in the Moscow region injured dozens of people and blew out windows in nearby buildings, NBC News’ YULIYA TALMAZAN reports.

Videos of the blast showed a mushroom cloud over the privately owned factory, which produces equipment such as night vision devices and binoculars for law enforcement and civilian use, after the explosion. It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the blast, but emergency officials told Russian state media that a “human factor” was involved and officials launched a criminal probe into the matter.

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TRUMP TWITTER WARRANT: Special Counsel JACK SMITH obtained a search warrant for DONALD TRUMP’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, earlier this year, according to newly revealed court documents, per our own KYLE CHENEY.

Twitter’s initial resistance to complying with the Jan. 17 warrant resulted in a federal judge holding the company, now called X, in contempt and levying a $350,000 fine. A federal court of appeals upheld that fine last month in a sealed opinion. Today, the court unsealed a redacted version of that opinion, revealing details of the secret battle for the first time.

It’s unclear what Smith was seeking from Trump’s account. Trump used the account actively in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, promoting false claims of election fraud, calling his supporters to Washington to “stop the steal” and mounting attacks on his rivals. Obtaining data from Twitter might have revealed patterns about Trump’s use of the account, whether others had access to it and whether there were any draft statements that were unsent.

HERITAGE V. HALEY: Heritage Foundation President KEVIN ROBERTS blasted Republican presidential candidate NIKKI HALEY after she criticized Sen. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-Ala.) for blocking military promotions over the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy.

“The patriotic, rank-and-file men and women in uniform stand behind Sen. Tuberville’s courageous fight against Biden’s despicable, and illegal act of using the DOD as an abortion factory,” Roberts said. “Those running for higher office should do the same. Failing to do so is shameful.”

Haley had said Tuesday Tuberville’s hold was hurting military readiness, arguing: “There’s got to be other ways to go about doing this.”

Roberts’ rebuke is stunning, considering his conservative think tank’s close ties to Haley. His stance may reflect both his true support for Tuberville’s effort and the foundation’s ideological shift toward the DONALD TRUMP/MAGA wing of the conservative movement.

Meanwhile, a poll of Alabamans shows 58 percent of the state’s voters want Tuberville to end his holds.

PENCE’S PRODUCING PROMISE: Former Vice President MIKE PENCE unveiled his plan on Tuesday to have the U.S. overcome China as the world’s largest energy producer within two decades, CNN’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI reports.

For the massive undertaking to work, Pence said he would allow new drilling on federal lands, cut permitting times in half, remove restrictions on natural gas production and replenish the United States’ petroleum stockpile.


NO TECH FOR YOU: The Biden administration will limit investments in Chinese companies to stop them from developing game-changing technologies, per a new executive order reported on by our own GAVIN BADE.

“The move represents the first time the U.S. government has sought to impose broad investment rules on U.S. firms overseas — an escalation of the economic conflict with China that is likely to earn a sharp rebuke from Beijing,” he writes.

Among other things, the EO compels companies to inform Washington if they’re investing in security-sensitive technologies in the semiconductor, artificial intelligence and quantum computing sectors. The Wall Street Journal’s ANDREW DUEHREN reports that “investors that violate those rules may face fines and be forced to divest themselves of their stakes.”

The rules won’t be in force for at least a year, however, giving companies time to offer their feedback to the government. That may lead to some changes in the regulations. CBS News’ RICHARD ESCOBEDO and OLIVIA GAZIS note that “some American executives expressed concern that a clampdown of the flow of U.S. capital to China could be harmful to U.S. businesses and have a negative impact on the domestic economy.”

This is a “carefully tailored approach,” a senior administration official said on a call with reporters today, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preview the move. “This is a national security action, not an economic one.”

The EO already has its critics. “Joe Biden’s new rules are not even a half measure,” presidential candidate Haley told NatSec Daily. “To stop funding China’s military, we have to stop all U.S. investment in China’s critical technology and military companies —period.”

The Complex

COMMUNICATING BETTER: Collins Aerospace was awarded a $36 million contract by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to build a satellite communications pod that can communicate with troops in remote locations.

The pod will “provide warfighters resilient, high bandwidth, low latency communications,” Collins’ parent company RTX Corporation wrote in a statement today. “The pod brings together military and commercial satellites to add resiliency to the host platforms” and can switch between vendors with little or no change in hardware.

Because of its beyond-line-of-sight capabilities, the new tech will give “military leaders enhanced situational awareness to make better decisions, faster across the battlespace,” RYAN BUNGE, vice president for communication and networking solutions at Collins Aerospace, said in a statement.

On the Hill

WATCH PARTY: The House and Senate passing their own versions of annual defense policy legislation was tough enough. Reconciling their differences will be even harder. Here are a few major fights to watch as the two chambers wrangle over the bill:

Culture wars: A final National Defense Authorization Act needs broad bipartisan support to pass both chambers, meaning many of the most hardline social provisions on topics like abortion travel policies and diversity programs may have to be scrapped for a bill to get to Biden’s desk. But the culture war issues present a challenge for House Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY. Dropping those issues would win back Democrats, but risk angering GOP hardliners who could threaten McCarthy’s speakership.

F-35 engine: The House and Senate Armed Services committees must bridge differing approaches to the future of the engine for the F-35 fighter jet. Both bills authorize the Pentagon’s request for funding to upgrade the current Pratt & Whitney manufactured F135 engine, but part ways over a potential alternative.

Ukraine inspector general: A House provision would create a special inspector general for Ukraine aid, modeled after the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The watchdog agency would oversee audits and investigations into U.S. aid provided to Ukraine to defeat Russia. The White House opposed it, and Senate Democrats defeated an effort from Republicans to include a similar measure.

Read the whole rundown from our own CONNOR O’BRIEN and JOE GOULD (for Pros!).


BELARUSIAN SANCTIONS: Washington sanctioned eight people and five entities for “enabling [Belarusian President ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO’s] domestic repression and facilitating Russia’s war against Ukraine,” SecState Blinken announced today.

Visa restrictions were also placed on another 101 Belarusian officials and their affiliates. The constraints fall on the third anniversary of Belarus’ “fraudulent” presidential election, Blinken noted, reiterating the United States’ “immediate and unconditional release of all 1,500 political prisoners held by the Lukashenka regime.”


RACHEL HUXLEY-COHEN will be comms director for Sen. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-N.H.), a SASC and SFRC member. She currently is deputy comms director for Sen. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-Ill.).

McLAURINE PINOVER has joined the Herald Group as a senior director. She was last the deputy communications director for HFAC Republicans.

What to Read

IVOR ICHIKOWITZ, POLITICO: Africa flexes its diplomatic muscles

NOSMOT GBADAMOSI, Foreign Policy: Will Niger’s neighbors intervene?

RYAN GRIM and MURTAZA HUSSAIN, The Intercept: Secret Pakistan cable documents U.S. pressure to remove IMRAN KHAN

Tomorrow Today

The Intelligence and National Security Alliance, 9 a.m.: Reflections on six decades of service to the nation.

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 10 a.m.: Extending deterrence by detection: the case for integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness.

The Business Council for International Understanding, 10 a.m.: Dynamics of Indian defense industry.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 10 a.m.: Book discussion on Gen. PAUL M. NAKASONE’s “A Front Row View of the NSA”

The Hudson Institute, 10 a.m.: Book discussion onRussia, China and the Revisionist Assault on the Western Liberal International Order.”

The McCain Institute, 12 p.m.: Book discussion on “The American Imperative: Reclaiming Global Leadership Through Soft Power.

The Atlantic Council, 2 p.m.: The future of the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

Thanks to our editor, Emma Anderson, with whom we will never agree to anything.

We also thank our producer, Gregory Svirnovskiy, who is our most trusted negotiating partner.