King Salman of Saudi Arabia applauded the administration of President Donald Trump at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday for its role in helping Arab states normalize relations with Israel.
President Trump has helped broker several deals between Israel and its neighbors in the past year that have resulted in these states accepting Israel as a sovereign nation and recognizing Israeli citizenship. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the most prominent Gulf state to normalize relations with Israel in August, followed by the kingdom of Bahrain; both nations signed agreements with Israel at the White House this week.
Saudi Arabia has yet to normalize relations with Israel but took the historic measure of allowing Israeli flights to fly through Saudi airspace following UAE’s decision to allow air travel between the two countries.
President Trump teased last week that more normalization deals between Israel and its neighbors were potentially on the way in the near future.
Prior to the deals this year, only Egypt and Jordan among the Arab states officially recognized Israel as a country. Other Arab states largely do not recognize the legitimacy of an Israeli passport, and some prohibit foreign nationals with Israeli stamps on their passports from entering.
“The Kingdom supports all efforts to advance the peace process,” King Salman told the General Assembly. “We support the efforts of the current U.S. administration to achieve peace in the Middle East by bringing the Palestinians and the Israelis to the negotiation table to reach a fair and comprehensive agreement.”
King Salman did not offer any indication that Saudi Arabia would join the UAE, one of its closest allies, in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. Saudi Arabia’s ability to broker deals with Israel is highly complicated by its position as the government in control of the holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina. The Islamic world has largely sided with Palestinian groups that dispute the legitimacy of the state of Israel, and the government of Saudi Arabia has, for decades, funded antisemitic and radical Islamist education materials throughout the Muslim world.
King Salman did not address Saudi Arabia’s historic ties to promoting Wahhabism, a form of radical Islam, internationally or the role Wahhabism has played in the founding of jihadist organizations. Instead, he portrayed Saudi Arabia as a “moderate” nation working to fight radical Islam and delegitimize violent manifestations of the faith.
“We in the Kingdom, due to our position in the Muslim World, bear a special and historical responsibility to protect our tolerant Islamic faith from attempts by terrorist organizations and extremist groups to pervert it,” King Salman said. “Islam that equates the killing of an individual with the killing of all people is undoubtedly innocent of all the crimes and atrocities committed in its name by the forces of terrorism and extremism.”
The king directed a large portion of his speech to condemning Iran’s role in state-sponsored terrorism and fueling Shiite jihadism, particularly against Saudi Arabia and Sunni states. He lamented that, from his perspective, Riyadh had sought peace with Iran consistently “to no avail.”
“The Kingdom received several of Iran’s presidents and other senior officials, among the Kingdom’s efforts to seek ways to build relations based on good neighborliness and mutual respect,” King Salman said.
The Saudi head of state also appeared to definitively declare the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a failure.
“The Kingdom welcomed the international efforts to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, but time and again, the entire world witnessed how the Iranian regime exploited these efforts in order to intensify its expansionist activities, create its terrorist networks, and use terrorism,” Salman said, “and in the process squandering the resources and wealth of the Iranian people for the purpose of its expansionist projects which produced nothing but chaos, extremism, and sectarianism.”
President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, citing Iran’s repeated violations of the provisions of the agreement, in 2018. The agreement still exists in theory, though Iran has publicly said it would violate its provisions.
“Our experience with the Iranian regime has taught us that partial solutions and appeasement did not stop its threats to international peace and security,” King Salman added. “A comprehensive solution and a firm international position are required to ensure fundamental solutions to the Iranian regime’s attempt to obtain weapons of mass destruction, and its ballistic missile program, and its interference in the international affairs of other countries, and its sponsorship of terrorism.”
The king also appeared to support U.S.-led efforts to maintain strict sanctions on the Iranian regime, although here he did not mention Washington or President Trump.
“If we intend to win in our battle against terrorism, we must not waiver in facing the countries that sponsor terrorism and sectarianism, and we must stand firmly in the face of these countries that promote transnational extremist ideologies, which rely on false political slogans to hide their extremist, chaotic, and destructive nature,” he said.