McEnany Clarifies: Russia Bounty Reports Lack Consensus From Intel Community
During her Monday afternoon briefing, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked several times about the Russian bounty story and President Trump’s briefing on the matter.
The Press Secretary repeatedly said the President was not briefed on the story as intelligence agencies had not reached a consensus on the situation and there were some intelligence officials with dissenting opinions.
President Trump has since been briefed and some lawmakers from the Committees of Jurisdiction — a bipartisan group, McEnany noted — are meeting at the White House today to receive a briefing on the Russian bounty.
Reporters were referencing a story alleging Russia paid Taliban fighters to kill Western soldiers, including American forces.
“The U.S. receives thousands of reports a day on intelligence and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” McEnany said. “There are dissenting opinions from some in the intelligence community with regards to the veracity of what’s being reported.”
She noted that intelligence wouldn’t be “elevated” to the President until the validity of the information was verified.
“There is no stronger advocate for our servicemen and women than President Trump,” McEnany added. “When our adversaries have directly targeted U.S. or coalition partners, the President has not hesitated to act.”
McEnany refused to speculate on the validity of the story as there is still a lack of consensus. She did note, however, that the President has been strong with actions against Russia in the past.
“This President has been extremely strong on Russia,” the Press Secretary said. “Imposing sanctions on hundreds of Russian individuals, expelling dozens of diplomats, closing two Russian counsulates, withdrawing from an INF treaty, and several other actions.”
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Saudi Arabia-Israel Deal Remains Biden’s Win to Lose
The Biden administration has recently become very vocally supportive of the Abraham Accords. At this week’s speech to AIPAC, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the administration plans to have staff dedicated to expand the Abraham Accords, and also called normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel a “real national interest” of the United States. Outgoing US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides recently called such relations “hugely important” to American interests, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reportedly discussed the prospect of normalization with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Two unnamed US officials told Axios that the Biden administration would be pushing for closer Saudi Arabia-Israel relations in the next six to seven months. This is tracking with Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen’s statement that there is a “good chance” of a Saudi Arabia-Israel deal “in half a year, or in the coming year.”
Saudi Arabia and Israel appear to continue to inch closer to normalization. Saudi Arabia continues to improve its textbooks regarding their portrayal of Israel and Jews, and Saudi Arabia and Israel are in “very complex negotiations” to secure hajj flights of Israeli Arabs to Mecca.
But while the Biden administration is setting high expectations for a breakthrough, its uncompromising positions on issues of Saudi and Israeli national security may inhibit a grand deal for Saudi Arabia-Israel normalization.
Resuming Negotiations with the Palestinians
First, the Biden administration’s continued obsession with a two-state solution could upend a deal. Secretary Blinken suggested that progress on the Abraham Accords should be linked to a “two-state solution” for Israel and the Palestinians in his speech this week to AIPAC (and mentioned a “two-state solution” or “two states” a whopping eight times). Both the Biden administration and Saudi Arabia have expressed that they want Saudi Arabia-Israel normalization in exchange in part for Israel to restart negotiations with the Palestinians that would result in a “separation” of Israel from the Palestinians. At the recent Arab League Summit, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) stated that “the Palestinian issue was and remains the central issue for Arab countries, and is at the top of the kingdom’s priorities.”
However, Palestinian nationalism in its current form is toxic at its core to Israel, and will likely be a bridge too far for Netanyahu’s government. If the Biden administration makes Saudi Arabia-Israel normalization contingent on substantial advancement towards a two-state solution, it is unlikely that a Saudi Arabia-Israel deal will materialize.
Overhauling Judicial Reform
Another example of the Biden administration getting in its own way in securing a deal is that it also wants Netanyahu’s government to abandon its judicial reform initiative in exchange for normalization. With Blinken stating that “we welcome efforts to find consensus on any [judicial] reforms,” the Biden administration is signaling that it will continue to meddle in this affair. If the If the Biden administration makes abandonment or revision of judicial reform as a condition for normalization, the deal will likely fail given Netanyahu government’s plan to continue such reform.
Saudi Arabia Wants To Increase Nuclear, Defense Ties With United States
The Biden administration could also come up short on normalization if it fails to reach an agreement with Saudi Arabia on nuclear and defense guarantees that it wants in exchange.
First, Saudi Arabia reportedly wants the United States to help jointly develop Saudi Arabia’s civilian nuclear program in exchange for normalization. Previous US-Saudi negotiations on this issue stalled over Saudi demands to produce nuclear fuel in Saudi Arabia. But if the Biden administration does not come to an agreement on this, the US will likely be leaving money (and influence) on the table, as Saudi Arabia will pursue nuclear cooperation elsewhere. Saudi Arabia’s relationship with China and Pakistan are cases in point.
Israeli officials are split on the issue of Saudi Arabia gaining nuclear technology. Israel’s energy minister recently opposedthe idea of Saudi Arabia having a civilian nuclear program. However, Israel’s National Security Advisor did not outright reject the idea of Saudi Arabia having civilian nuclear technology, but rather suggested that such a move should be coordinated with Israel. Additionally, even though the Saudi request reportedly includes the right to enrich uranium independently, Israeli officials have stated that this is a mitigatable concern.
Additionally, MBS wants the Biden administration to sign a US-Saudi defense treaty and unfreeze several weapons agreements previously put on ice by the Biden administration, according to Israeli press. MBS is also seeking improved military coordination between the US and Saudi Arabia, access to US munitions for the Saudi Air Force, and to gain access to complex US military platforms, according to Axios.
It remains to be seen if the Biden administration can come to an agreement on the nuclear and defense issues. But if these remain at an impasse, they would significantly harm the prospects of Saudi Arabia-Israel normalization.
The Biden administration stands on the precipice of securing a huge foreign policy win by securing a Saudi Arabia-Israel normalization deal. But while Netanyahu was prepared to forgo annexation of Judea and Samaria to secure deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan (and was contemplating doing so to get a deal with Saudi Arabia in December), the Biden administration’s demands on Israel for a two–state solution and dropping judicial reform efforts could prove to be a bridge too far. The Biden administration must also somehow make an agreement with Saudi Arabia on its defense requests in order for such normalization to have a chance at survival. But as Saudi Arabia recently promised cuts to oil production, met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and is getting closer to China, the Biden administration faces significant headwinds.
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