Biden welcomes Saudi decision to open air space to ‘all carriers’

RIYH: Saudi Arabia announced on Friday (Jul 15) it was lifting restrictions on “all carriers” using its airspace, an apparent gesture of openness towards Israel ahead of US President Joe Biden’s arrival.

The US leader welcomed the “historic” decision, the latest conciliatory move by Riyadh concerning the Jewish state, which it has refused to recognise despite intensive efforts by the Israelis to establish ties with Arab countries.

The Saudi civil aviation authority “announces the decision to open the Kingdom’s airspace for all air carriers that meet the requirements of the authority for overflying”, it said in a statement on Twitter.

The decision was made “to complement the Kingdom’s efforts aimed at consolidating the Kingdom’s position as a global hub connecting three continents”.

“This decision is the result of the president’s persistent and principled diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over many months, culminating in his visit today,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in the statement, adding that Biden “commends” it.

“This decision paves the way for a more integrated, stable, and secure Middle East region, which is vital for the security and prosperity of the United States and the American people, and for the security and prosperity of Israel,” Sullivan added.

He said the US president, who will land in Saudi Arabia for a controversial visit later on Friday as part of a trip to the Middle East, “will have more to say on this breakthrough later today.”

Prior to Biden’s arrival in Israel at the start of his Middle East trip on Wednesday, Washington had hinted that more Arab nations could take steps to pursue relations with Israel, spurring speculation about whether Riyadh would alter its long-held position of not establishing official bilateral ties until the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved.

The kingdom did not show any opposition when its regional ally, the United Arab Emirates, established diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020, followed by Bahrain and Morocco under the US-brokered Abraham Accords.

Yet analysts have stressed that any immediate gains are likely to be incremental and that Riyadh will probably not agree to formal ties – not during Biden’s visit or while King Salman, 86, still reigns.

Biden will travel to the Saudi city of Jeddah on the Red Sea coast on Friday afternoon, despite a previous vow to treat the kingdom as a “pariah” over the 2018 murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

He is to travel directly from the Jewish state to Saudi Arabia – becoming the first US president to fly from there to an Arab nation that does not recognise it.

In 2017, his predecessor, Donald Trump, made the journey in reverse.