President Joe Biden will outline his strategy for the Middle East on Saturday as he wraps up the final leg of a four-day trip designed to bolster US positioning and weld the region together against Iran.
In the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, Biden will meet heads of state from six Gulf Arab countries, as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq for a regional summit. Hours before the Gulf Cooperation Council summit, the White House released satellite images showing that Russian officials have visited Iran twice in recent weeks for a showcase of weapons-capable drones it is seeking to acquire for use in its ongoing war in Ukraine.
None of the countries represented at the summit followed suit with the United States in sanctioning Russia, a key foreign policy priority of the Biden administration. On the contrary, the UAE has become something of a financial haven for Russian billionaires and their multi-million dollar yachts. Egypt remains open to Russian tourists.
The release of satellite imagery — which shows Russian officials visited Kashan airfield on June 8 and July 15 to take a look at the drones — could help the administration better tie the relevance of the war to the concerns of many Arab countries over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and other malign activities in the region.
A senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters ahead of the summit said Moscow’s efforts to acquire drones from Tehran show that Russia is “effectively betting on Iran.”
The leaders’ rally comes a day after he championed moves to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and sought to rebuild cooperation with the Saudi king and crown prince after he once promised to do of the kingdom a “pariah” for its human rights violations.
When addressing the Gulf Cooperation Council and its Arab allies, the White House said, Biden will offer his most comprehensive view yet for the region and how the United States can cooperate with it.
His first trip to the Middle East comes 11 months after the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and as Biden aims to redefine U.S. priorities away from the ruinous Middle East wars and ongoing conflicts that s extend from Libya to Syria.
“It’s a strategy suited to the 2022 goal as opposed to the two decades of major ground wars the United States waged in this region during the 2000s,” the national security adviser told reporters. Biden, Jake Sullivan, in a preview of the speech.
Energy prices, high since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, had to be high on the agenda. But Biden’s aides tempered expectations that he would leave with a deal for regional producers to immediately increase supply.
“I suspect you won’t see that for a few weeks,” Biden told reporters Friday night. At the summit, Biden was expected to hear a chorus of concerns about stability and security in the region, as well as worries about food security, climate change and the lingering threat of terrorism.
Overall, there is little the nine Middle Eastern heads of state agree on when it comes to foreign policy. For example, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are trying to isolate and squeeze Iran over its regional reach and proxies. Oman and Qatar, on the other hand, have strong diplomatic relations with Iran and have served as intermediaries for talks between Washington and Tehran.
Qatar recently hosted talks between US and Iranian officials as they try to revive the Iran nuclear deal. Iran not only shares a huge undersea gas field with Qatar in the Persian Gulf, but it rushed to Qatar’s aid when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed relations and imposed a years-long embargo on Qatar that did not end until shortly before Biden’s takeover. Desk.
Biden’s actions have frustrated some of the leaders. While the United States has played an important role in encouraging a months-long ceasefire in Yemen, Biden’s decision to overturn a Trump-era decision that classified Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a group terrorist outraged the Emirati and Saudi leaders.
On Friday, Biden punched Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto leader, as he arrived at the royal palace in Jeddah. But he dismissed the idea that he was ignoring the kingdom’s human rights abuses as he tried to reset a strained diplomatic relationship.
“I said, very simply, that an American president being silent on a human rights issue is inconsistent with who we are and who I am,” Biden said. “I will always stand up for our values.”
US intelligence thinks the crown prince likely approved the killing of US-based writer Jamal Khashoggi four years ago. Biden said Prince Mohammed claimed he was “not personally responsible” for the death. “I indicated that I thought he was,” replied the president.
As for US concerns about extending China’s reach, China seems willing to provide Saudi Arabia with missile and nuclear technologies that the US is far more reluctant to do. China is also the kingdom’s largest buyer of Saudi oil.
For Iraq, which has the deepest and strongest ties to Iran of any Arab country, its presence at the meeting reflects Saudi efforts – backed by the United States – to bring Iraq closer to the positions Arabs and the so-called Arab withdrawal. Iraq has hosted about five rounds of direct talks between Saudi and Iranian officials since Biden took office, though the talks have produced few results.
Ahead of the summit, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadhimi, who survived an assassination attempt with armed drones in November, wrote in Foreign Policy that Iraq faces many problems, but is working “to resolve Iraqi problems with Iraqi solutions”.
“When US President Joe Biden comes to the Middle East this week, he will arrive in a region facing many challenges, from terrorism to food insecurity and climate change,” he wrote. “But the Middle East is also a region that is increasingly facing these challenges together under the leadership of a group of leaders pursuing positive change.”
July 16, 2022