Top U.S. Diplomat Starts Mideast Trip in Saudi Arabia

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, the first stop of a Mideast trip amid efforts to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas for a pause in Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the release of Israeli hostages and a flow of more humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territory.

The visit to the city of Jeddah comes as the Biden administration hopes it can convince Saudi Arabia to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, a long-term objective that the United States considers important to stabilizing the broader Middle East.

The State Department said that Mr. Blinken would be in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and Egypt on Thursday to meet with the two countries’ “leadership.” It did not name specific officials.

Mr. Blinken told reporters in Manila on Tuesday that his discussions in the Middle East would include postwar plans for Gaza and the wider region.

He also said he would address “the right architecture for lasting regional peace,” an apparent reference to diplomacy between the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia to broker a joint agreement.

Such a pact would likely require Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in return for its first-ever formal diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. In turn, the Saudis want the United States and Israel to support the creation of a civil nuclear program on Saudi soil, as well as greater military support from Washington.

After a period of deeply strained relations, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and President Biden found common ground earlier this year over exploring a potential deal in which Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel and establish diplomatic ties.

Many Arab governments, including Saudi Arabia, have long refused to establish a diplomatic link with Israel before the creation of a Palestinian state. Over the past decade, though, that calculus has shifted as the region’s authoritarian leaders have weighed negative public opinion toward a relationship with Israel against the economic and security benefits it could offer — and what they might obtain from the United States in return.

Framing the prospect of building ties with Israel as a way to obtain greater rights for the Palestinians could allow Prince Mohammed to limit popular backlash in his own country, where hostility toward Israel and support for the Palestinians is widespread.

Mr. Blinken’s trip comes as negotiators from Israel have joined officials from Egypt and Qatar to hold meetings in the Qatari capital, Doha, aimed at achieving a temporary cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and the release of hostages held by Palestinian militants.

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