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US sees big gains if Mideast mega-deal sealed – but at what price?

[1/4] Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives U.S. President Joe Biden at Al Salman Palace upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS /File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights
WASHINGTON, Sept 19 (Reuters) – The Biden administration is pressing ahead with a concerted effort to strike a “grand bargain” in the Middle East that includes normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, calculating that the U.S. could reap big rewards if it can overcome steep obstacles.
President Joe Biden’s aides have made this diplomatic push a foreign policy priority despite varying degrees of skepticism by experts on whether the timing, conditions and current regional leadership are right for a mega-deal that could reshape the geopolitics of the Middle East.
This marks a dramatic reversal for a president who had spent much of his term shying away from deeper diplomatic involvement in the region’s troubles, raising questions about why he has committed to such a challenging goal, what he stands to gain and whether he might end up paying too high a price.
A bid to broker relations between longtime foes Israel and Saudi Arabia is the centerpiece of complex negotiations that involve discussions of U.S. security guarantees and civilian nuclear help sought by Riyadh as well as Israeli concessions to the Palestinians, according to people familiar with matter.
While U.S. officials insist any breakthrough is far away, they privately tout the potential benefits, including removing a possible flashpoint in the Arab-Israeli conflict, strengthening the regional bulwark against Iran and countering China’s inroads in the Gulf. Biden would also score a foreign policy win as he seeks re-election in November 2024.
“There’s a lot that could go wrong, but if it happens it could be a crowning foreign policy achievement,” said Jonathan Panikoff, the U.S. government’s former deputy national intelligence officer on the Middle East, now at the Atlantic Council.
Though the timetable remains uncertain, Biden’s aides believe there may be a critical window to craft a deal before the presidential campaign consumes his agenda, sources say.
But U.S. officials acknowledge there are so many stumbling blocks that they have no guarantee of success. Israel-Saudi negotiations have been conducted with Biden’s emissaries as go-betweens.
“We are actively talking,” one U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.



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