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US officials visit Saudi Arabia for possible Israel normalisation talks, report says

Axios reports that visit by senior advisors comes just weeks before US President Joe Biden is expected to head to the kingdom
A picture taken on 22 September, 2020 shows a Saudi national flag in Riyadh (AFP)

Two of US President Joe Biden's senior advisors have reportedly visited Saudi Arabia for talks to increase oil production and the possible normalisation of ties with Israel, Axios reported.

White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk and State Department energy envoy Amos Hochstein reportedly met with senior Saudi officials on Tuesday, Axios reported on Wednesday, citing three current and former US officials.

Earlier this week, Axios reported that the Biden administration had been quietly mediating between Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt on the transfer of two strategic islands which, if successful, could be the first step on the road to the normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The news also comes days after CNN reported that Biden could travel to Saudi Arabia next month and meet the country's de facto ruler, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

While on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said more steps must be taken to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before possible normalisation with Israel.

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"We have always seen normalisation as the end result for a path. Normalisation between the region and Israel will bring benefits but we won’t be able to reap those benefits unless we are able to address the issue of Palestine," he said.

"The fact it remains unresolved continues to bring significant instability to the region. The priority needs to be how to push the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and if it happens it will benefit the whole region."

Biden's visit would come amid a major strain in relations between the two longstanding allies. Washington and Riyadh have clashed over the kingdom's response to the war in Ukraine, and Saudi Arabia has rejected pleas from the Biden administration to pump more oil at a time of rising prices.

On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to make the kingdom the "pariah that they are" for the 2018 murder of Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and famously ruled out dealing directly with MBS.

Upon taking office, he permitted the release of a report by US intelligence agencies that concluded that MBS likely ordered the killing of Khashoggi inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

Middle East Eye reached out to the State Department and White House for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.