October 04, 2023

Duckworth, Durbin Lead Colleagues in Letter to President Biden on U.S. Role in Potential Normalization Agreement Between Saudi Arabia and Israel


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Peter Welch (D-VT) in leading 15 of their Senate colleagues in a letter to President Biden, expressing their support for the prospect of normalization and sharing their views on the parameters of the United States’ involvement in a potential normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel.  The Senators raised concerns with requests the Saudi government has reportedly made to the Biden Administration, including a potential security guarantee and support for a civilian nuclear program.  They also outlined elements that should be included in a potential normalization agreement to preserve the option of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Peace between Israel and its neighbors has been a longstanding goal of U.S. foreign policy, and we are maintaining an open mind about any agreement that would potentially deepen the political, cultural and economic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel,” wrote the Senators.  “As the Administration pursues negotiations to achieve an agreement that may require Senate action, we write to share our views on the parameters of any potential proposal that aligns with U.S. security goals and advances your stated goals for long term peace, stability and justice in the region.”

The Senators laid out their concerns with Saudi Arabia’s reported requests of the United States for the normalization agreement.  On a potential security guarantee in a region where the U.S. has long refrained from committing to treaty-backed security guarantees, the Senators wrote: “A high degree of proof would be required to show that a binding defense treaty with Saudi Arabia – an authoritarian regime which regularly undermines U.S. interests in the region, has a deeply concerning human rights record, and has pursued an aggressive and reckless foreign policy agenda – aligns with U.S. interests, especially if such a commitment requires the U.S. to deploy substantial new permanent resources to the region.”

On the reported Saudi request for U.S. support to develop a civilian nuclear program and to purchase more advanced U.S weaponry, the Senators wrote, “While we should seriously consider whether it is in U.S. interests to help Saudi Arabia develop a domestic nuclear program, we should always maintain the high bar of the ‘gold standard’ 123 Agreement and insist on adherence to the Additional Protocol.  And as the devastating war in Yemen has shown, the provision of more advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia should be done with careful deliberation to ensure that such equipment only be used for truly defensive purposes and does not contribute to a regional arms race.”

The Senators outlined the elements that should be included in any normalization agreement to preserve the option of a two-state solution: “To the extent the United States is considering the precedent-breaking upgrade to our security relationship with Saudi Arabia outlined above as part of a comprehensive security and recognition agreement between Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, the agreement should include meaningful, clearly defined and enforceable provisions to achieve your stated objective of preserving the option of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to ensuring that there be ‘equal measures of dignity and security’ for both Israelis and Palestinians.  This should include, among other measures, a commitment by Israel not to annex any or all of the West Bank; to halt settlement construction and expansion; to dismantle illegal outposts (including those that have been retroactively ‘legalized’); and to allow the natural growth of Palestinian towns, cities and population centers and the ability to travel without interference between and among contiguous Palestinian areas.  These elements are essential to any sustainable peace in the Middle East and to preserving Israel’s own future as a Jewish, democratic state.”

The Senators concluded, “As the parties make requests of the U.S. throughout your discussions, we hope that you will also seek commitments from them with respect to actions they can take to further U.S. national security interests and peace and stability in the region.  We appreciate your commitment to this important initiative and ask that you keep us regularly apprised of developments.”

U.S. Senators Durbin, Duckworth, Murphy, Van Hollen and Welch were joined in sending this letter with Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tom Carper (D-DE), John Fetterman (D-PA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA.), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Full text of the letter is available here.