Saudi foreign minister: No meeting planned with Netanyahu

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said no meeting is planned between the kingdom’s crown prince and Israel’s prime minister, a statement apparently meant to quash reports circulating in Israeli media this week of an alleged summit between the two.

“There is no meeting planned between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Saudi Arabia’s policy has been very clear since the beginning of this conflict,” Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya English news website in a report on Thursday.

“There are no relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and the kingdom stands firmly behind Palestine,” the minister said, adding that it’s not unique to have shared interests with Israel in countering Iran since there are many other countries with a similar policy.

Still, the statement was an unusual rebuttal by the kingdom’s most senior diplomat to reports circulating in Israeli media, which had reported that a meeting was being planned between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations, despite quietly strengthening ties in past years.

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Reports emerged last week on the Israel Hayom news website, which quoted unnamed Arab diplomats as saying there were discussions among the United States, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to arrange a summit in Cairo that would include the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Bahrain and Oman.

Whispers of a meeting with Saudi crown prince could help bolster a politically embattled Netanyahu as he tries to fend off a slew of criminal corruption charges and squares off for a third time in less than a year against an increasingly popular opponent in elections next month.

The young crown prince is seen as less sympathetic toward the Palestinians and more amenable to security cooperation with Israel than his father, King Salman.

Saudi Arabia continues to publicly stress it is not softening its policies toward Israel. It recently rebuffed suggestions that Israelis would be granted visas to the kingdom following a change in Israel and allow Israeli citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia expressed support for President Donald Trump’s efforts at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but days later joined other Muslim nations in rejecting the White House’s plan as “biased.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is working to bolster Israel’s ties with a range of Arab states in the absence of a peace deal with the Palestinians. He secured a rare meeting with the head of Sudan’s transitional government in Uganda earlier this month and afterwards announced that the two countries were “normalizing relations.” The meeting was seen as a chance for Sudan to use Israel’s standing in Washington as leverage to help Khartoum come out of its international pariah status and rebuild its economy.

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