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American and Saudi officials are discussing terms of a mutual defence treaty that would resemble the robust military pacts that the US has with its close allies Japan and South Korea, a central component in President Biden’s high-stakes diplomacy to get Saudi Arabia to normalise relations with Israel, according to US officials. Under such an agreement, the US and Saudi Arabia would generally pledge to provide military support if the other country is attacked in the region or on Saudi territory. The discussions to model the terms after the treaties in East Asia, considered among the strongest the US has outside of its European pacts, have not been previously reported.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmanregards a mutual defence deal with the US as the most important element in his talks with the Biden administration about Israel, current and former US officials said. Saudi officials say a strong defence deal would help deter potential assaults by Iran or its armed partners even as the two regional rivals re-establish diplomatic ties. Prince Mohammed is also asking the Biden administration to help his nation develop a civilian nuclear programme, which some US officials fear could be cover for a nuclear weapons programme to counter Iran.
Any treaty with Saudi Arabia that is similar to the American pacts with East Asian allies is sure to draw strong objections in Cong ress. Some senior US lawmakers, including top Democrats, see the Saudi government and Prince Mohammed as unreliable partners who care little about US interests or human rights. An agreement would also raise questions about whether Biden is getting the US more militarily entwined with West Asia. And such a treaty would also contradict the Biden administration’s stated goal of reorienting American military resources and fighting capabilities away from the area and toward deterring China specifically in the Asia-Pacific region.

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