Integrated Mideast defence system still only an idea, says U.S. official

U.S. President Biden visits Saudi Arabia
U.S. President Joe Biden walks to board a plane following an Arab summit, at King Abdulaziz International Airprot, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 16, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

DUBAI, July 28 (Reuters) - A senior U.S. administration official said on Thursday that there was no framework yet for an integrated Middle East air and missile defence system but that the United States believes there is potential for a multilateral regional approach for security.

President Joe Biden raised the matter during a visit to Saudi Arabia earlier this month where he held a summit with leaders from nine Arab states following a trip to Israel, but left with no public Arab support for a regional security axis. read more

"It's an idea right now, there's no framework for it ... but it was important for the president to raise the issue of better regional integrated air and missile defence," said the administration official, who declined to be named.

"We think, particularly given the increasing threat of Iran's ballistic missiles, there's great promise here in having a more networked, more integrated, more cooperative approach to air missile defense."

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been frustrated by U.S. conditions on arms sales. The two countries were also irked by their exclusion from indirect U.S.-Iran talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear pact they see as flawed for not addressing Iran's missile programme and regional behaviour.

Israel, which shares their concern over Iran, encouraged Biden's trip to Jeddah, hoping it would foster a warming between Saudi Arabia and Israel as part of a wider Arab rapprochement after the UAE and Bahrain forged ties with Israel.

During the trip, Saudi Arabia announced it would open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more overflights to and from Israel. The Saudi foreign minister later said this was not a precursor to further steps and that he was not aware of any discussions on a Gulf-Israeli defence alliance.

Iran accused Washington of using "Iranophobia" to create regional tension during Biden's visit.

Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Maha El Dahan in Dubai Editing by Matthew Lewis

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