US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s virtual meeting with foreign ministers about the Omicron coronavirus variant last week included the ministers from both Saudi Arabia and Israel, a rare instance where the two countries who do not have formal diplomatic relations participated in the same call.
A readout from the US State Department said Blinken had spoken with “several” foreign ministers during the December 21 meeting, but it did not specify from which countries.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a tweet that the foreign ministers of “Japan, India, Mexico, Australia, Germany, and additional countries” were on the call, but he made no mention of Saudi Arabia.
For their part, the Saudis have made no public statement about the call. But a Saudi official told CNN that Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan took part in the virtual meeting with Blinken and others.
When asked whether Saudi Arabia had participated in the call, the US State Department referred CNN to the Saudis.
Chinese Ambassador to the US Qin Gang posted a screenshot of the virtual meeting to Twitter last week, which showed Prince Faisal and Lapid in attendance, along with a host of other diplomats.
Despite Israel’s emerging relations with several Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the country has no formal diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia.
In November 2020, a member of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said that the longtime Israeli leader had met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi city of Neom. The Saudis swiftly denied that such a meeting had taken place.
Israel and Saudi Arabia share a common interest in pushing back against Iranian actions throughout the region. Both countries view Iran and its proxies as the primary threat in the Middle East.
But despite the shared perspective on Iran and the widely held belief that the two have ongoing ties, relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia remain an incredibly sensitive topic.
Then-President Donald Trump and his administration put tremendous pressure on the Saudis to normalize relations with Israel, like the UAE and Bahrain, even in the waning days of Trump’s presidency.
Should Saudi Arabia normalize relations with Israel, it would be the most significant country yet to do so, standing as the de facto leader of the Sunni Muslim world. A Saudi decision to normalize relations with Israel could potentially pull other Sunni countries along.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.