Representatives of Joe Biden are in secret talks with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel aimed at normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, the statement said.
Establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries would be a major foreign policy coup for the White House.
Currently, talks are focused on confirming ownership of two uninhabited islands in the Red Sea, which is a major stumbling block for any normalization.
Saudi Arabia has never officially hosted Israel, despite the fact that the two countries have been closer for decades.
The agreement will be the most significant in the Middle East since 2020, when Donald Trump negotiated an agreement between Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations with Israel – agreements that became known as the Abraham Agreement.
In 1979, Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but over the years it has diminished their relationship – with the most significant interactions mainly between the two countries’ military.
Biden hopes to sign an agreement before his trip to the Middle East in late June, Axios reported on Monday.
The key stumbling block to any deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel is what to do with the islands of Tirana and Sanafir, which are between Egypt and Saudi Arabia but control the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Gulf is a vital strategic channel for Israel leading to the port city of Eilat
In the foreground is the island of Tirana, with its mountains inside, and Sanafir behind. On the mainland is the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh
On Tuesday in Tokyo Joe Biden speaks at the ATV summit with the leaders of Japan, Australia and India
Control of Tirana and the Sarafin Islands is challenged
1949: At the request of its ally Saudi Arabia, the Egyptian military is taking control of the uninhabited islands of Tirana and Sanafir in the Red Sea.
1954: Egypt informs the UN Security Council that the two islands have been territory of Egypt since the delimitation of the border between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire in 1906. Israel says the islands did not belong to Egypt until 1949.
1956: Israel captures the islands but then returns them to Egypt.
1967: The islands were recaptured by Israel during the Six Day War.
1979: Signed Camp David Accords, Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty. Tirana and Sanafir must be a demilitarized zone and have a multinational observer force led by the United States.
1982: Israel transfers the islands to Egypt under the Camp David Accords.
1988: Saudi Arabia is officially requesting the return of the islands and is repeating the request a year later.
2016: King Abdel Aziz al-Saud, the leader of Saudi Arabia, says he had previously given Egypt permission to defend the islands because he feared possible Israeli expansion, while his kingdom did not have adequate naval forces to protect them. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi says the islands have always been Saudi Arabia, and agrees to transfer the islands back to Saudi Arabia – in exchange for financial support. The deal provoked protest and was rejected by the country’s highest court.
2018: Egypt’s Supreme Court has approved an agreement to transfer sovereignty to Saudi Arabia. Israel has agreed in principle, provided that a multinational observer force will remain on the islands to protect freedom of navigation. The deal was never completed.
The parties are now looking for solutions to the Tirana and Sanafir islands, which lie between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but are controlling the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, a vital strategic channel for Israel leading to the port city of Eilat.
Since the founding of Israel in 1948, the islands have switched between Israeli, Egyptian and Saudi control.
In 1949, the Egyptian military occupied small outcrops – Tirana – 30 square miles, and Sanafir – 13 square miles – at the request of its ally Saudi Arabia, which at that time did not have a navy, and was concerned about Israel’s intentions.
Israel, seeking to protect access to its port in Eilat, twice seized the islands – in 1956 and 1967 – but both times returned them to Egypt after peace talks.
Saudi Arabia, which founded its navy in 1960, formally filed a petition to return the islands in 1988.
But Israel remains skeptical and concerned that a hostile nation could block their vital shipping route.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, backed by Saudi Arabia, said in 2016 that the islands rightfully belonged to Saudi Arabia, and began the process of transferring them, but was blocked by courts and strong Egyptian opposition.
The agreement was approved by the Supreme Court of Egypt in 2018.
Israel has said it will accept the transfer in principle, subject to the presence of multinational forces on the islands to protect shipping routes.
The agreement has not been ratified.
Brett McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East, is leading the current round of talks, Axios reports.
Sources at the site said multinational forces on the islands are proving to be a key point of comment.
Saudi Arabia has agreed to keep the islands demilitarized and has pledged to maintain full freedom of navigation for all ships, Axios reports.
The country was reluctant to commit to multinational observers.
Israeli officials said it could be considered, but only subject to alternative security measures that would guarantee the same protection.
Israel is also demanding other concessions from Saudi Arabia, such as allowing Israeli planes to fly over Saudi airspace, which will significantly reduce the time needed to fly from Tel Aviv to Asia.
King Salman (left) of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Sisi (right) agree that the islands should be returned to Saudi Arabia’s control, but have not yet clarified details.
Sisi is pictured meeting with King Salman on March 8 during a visit to Riyadh
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will appear on May 15. He is ready to discuss a deal with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but is seeking some concessions
The Israelis also want the Saudis to allow direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia for Muslims in Israel wishing to go on pilgrimage.
Biden is expected to visit Saudi Arabia next month and meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The 36-year-old is the de facto power in the country, although his father, 86-year-old King Salman, nominally rules.
Biden’s trip will also include a summit with leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, several Arab sources told Axios.