Intelbrief / IntelBrief: Presidential trip to the Middle East aims to reassure historic allies
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
From July 13-16, President Joseph Biden visited longtime US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia on a controversial trip that included meetings with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and a summit. with the six Gulf States and three other Arab leaders. The trip was intended to reassure American allies who feared that the United States would seek to reduce its involvement in the region and leave it to face a list of growing threats: Iran and its regional allies such as Hezbollah and the Hamas, the diminishing but still a powerful threat posed by regional terrorist groups, food insecurity and the effects of the ongoing civil conflict in Syria and Yemen. Forming the key message from the United States, President Biden said during his July 16 summit meeting with the leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman ) and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq: “Let me make it clear that the United States will remain an active and engaged partner in the Middle East.” The visit also aimed, at least in part, to persuade American allies to clearly align themselves with the United States regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine by reducing their economic, security and political engagement with Russia. contribute to ensuring regional food security, which has been jeopardized by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
President Biden has not articulated any new overarching strategic vision for the United States, which some pundits have called for as an organizing principle around which allies of the United States and other states in the region can align themselves. Prior to the trip, some Arab states discussed the possibility of the United States organizing a “NATO in the Middle East” or similar strategic arrangement to counter the growing threat posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although U.S. officials have not advanced any broad regional alignment beyond continuing the normalization process between Israel and its Arab neighbors, President Biden echoed past U.S. doctrines for the region when he said at the 16 July that: “We are not going to withdraw and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran”, and “the United States will not allow – will not allow foreign or regional powers to put jeopardize the freedom of navigation on the waterways of the Middle East, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab. We will also not tolerate efforts by one country to dominate another in the region through military build-ups, incursions and/or threats.
No broad “anti-Iranian” alliance was announced during the trip, in part because Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are engaged in dialogue with Iran in an effort to lower regional tensions. Yet in Israel, the threat posed by Iran — and differences over US efforts to revive the 2015 multilateral Iranian nuclear deal — dominated official accounts of the talks. In official statements and press interviews, President Biden appeared to seek to gloss over US-Israeli differences over how to deal with Iran’s expanding nuclear program, including issuing a joint US “Jerusalem Declaration” -Israeli in which “the United States underlines that an integral part of this commitment is the commitment never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that it is ready to use all elements of its national power to secure that outcome. U.S. officials have indicated no intention of ending ongoing negotiations with Iran, if stalled, to reinstate the 2015 nuclear deal, but U.S. leaders have not nor was it critical of the likelihood that unilateral Israeli action against Iran would not permanently cripple Iran’s nuclear program or advance regional stability. the.
US officials have taken advantage of the Israeli shutdown to try to rebuild relations with Palestinian Authority leaders that have been shunned under the Trump administration. He met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and included in the statement from Jerusalem that: “President Biden reaffirms his longstanding and steadfast support for a two-state solution and for moving towards a reality in which Israelis and Palestinians can benefit from equal measures. security, freedom and prosperity. He announced more than $300 million in new US aid to the Palestinians and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – a contrast to Trump administration policy that has largely halted aid to the Palestinians. President Biden, however, did not announce any new US moves to reinvigorate Israeli-Palestinian final status talks or meet Palestinian hopes of announcing the reopening of the US consulate in East Jerusalem, a key US diplomatic channel to the Palestinians.
The visit to Saudi Arabia was undoubtedly the most controversial leg of the trip, in light of President Biden’s earlier attempts to single out the de facto Saudi leader, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), for his role in the October 2018 murder of a Saudi dissident. journalist Jamal Khashoggi. President Biden claimed he brought up the killing during the July 15 meeting with MBS as part of an effort to underscore the United States’ insistence on regional compliance with international standards for security practices. matters of human rights. Yet one of the main purposes of the trip, if downplayed by US officials, was to persuade the Kingdom and other Gulf exporters, such as the UAE, to bring more crude oil to markets. global. The United States has received vague promises from Saudi leaders to help bring stability to the global oil market, raising hopes that at meetings of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in the coming months , production increases could be announced. Yet Saudi statements at the end of President Biden’s trip appear to confirm that Saudi spare production capacity is, at least in the short term, well below what is needed to significantly lower oil prices.
Although the trip focused on short-term political goals rather than strategic interests, some deals were struck during the meetings there that are meant to reassure not only regional U.S. allies, but also to refute American critics of the engagement with MBS. In an effort to assuage Saudi Arabian and Gulf concerns over the United States’ commitment to deterring Iran, the official statement said: “The United States has affirmed that it will accelerate our cooperation with Iran. Saudi Arabia and other partners in the region to counter unmanned aerial systems and missiles that threaten the peace and security of the region…In particular, the United States is committed to advancing a defense architecture air and anti-missile systems more integrated and regionally networked and to combat the proliferation of unmanned aerial systems and missiles to non-state actors that threaten the peace and security of the region.
US officials secured an agreement for the Kingdom to open Saudi airspace to civilian aircraft flying to and from Israel, and President Biden’s flight from Israel to Jeddah inaugurated this airway. Saudi leaders also promised US officials to “do everything possible to prolong and strengthen the UN-brokered truce”. [in Yemen], which led to fifteen weeks of peace, the calmest period in Yemen for years, and translated it into a lasting ceasefire and political process. The two countries also signed a “Partnership Framework for Advancing Clean Energy” that includes new Saudi investments to accelerate the energy transition and combat the effects of climate change, as well as bilateral agreements on joint efforts in energy. cybersecurity and infrastructure investments. President Biden also hailed the achievement of a long-running effort to wean Iraq off its dependence on Iranian electricity supplies — and Iran more broadly — through a deal to link Iraq to the GCC network. While the trip may not have fully achieved all of America’s goals, the trip may have laid the groundwork for new bilateral dialogues and agreements that may unfold in the months or years to come.