The Biden administration may be on the verge of damaging America's reputation and US national security by agreeing to a defense pact with an "authoritarian regime" in Saudi Arabia, a group of 20 Democratic senators warned in a letter to the president on Wednesday.

The New York Times reported last month that the Biden administration is considering a security agreement with Saudi Arabia "resembling those with Japan or South Korea." That could mean US forces being obliged to defend Riyadh in the event it is attacked, undermining Washington's stated commitment to democracy in exchange for the Saudis normalizing relations with Israel.

While saying they share the White House's goal of restoring ties between its two Middle Eastern allies, the senators argue that a defense pact with Saudi Arabia would upend decades of US policy.

"Historically, security guarantees through defense treaties have only been provided to the closest of US allies: democracies that share our interests and our values," the lawmakers' missive states. "Further, the US has long refrained from committing our nation to treaty-backed security guarantees in the volatile Middle East, a region rife with conflict."

The senators — including Chris Murphy of Connecticut, John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, and Dick Durbin of Illinois — say they could still be convinced that a US-Saudi defense deal is in America's interests. But they suggest it would be a hard sell given that Saudi Arabia is "an authoritarian regime that regularly undermines US interests in the region, has a deeply concerning human rights record, and has pursued and aggressive and reckless foreign policy agenda."

The effort to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia was kickstarted during the Trump administration, despite Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordering the killing of an American citizen, Jamal Khashoggi, according to a US intelligence assessment. Axios reported last month that allies of the former president, including Jared Kushner, have urged him to support Biden's efforts to finish the job.