JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Was it worth it?
That’s the question President Joe Biden is trying to answer in the affirmative as he wraps up a four-day trip to the Middle East on Saturday with meetings in Saudi Arabia – the country he previously swore to himself. to avoid because of its human rights violations.
Biden is expected to address economic, security and human rights issues.
American voters, on the other hand, are probably more interested in whether he can convince the oil-rich kingdom to help bring down the price of gas.
While no specific commitments were announced, Biden noted that the OPEC+ group of oil-producing nations recently increased production and said he expects to see “further milestones in the coming weeks.” come”.
- New approach: Biden was forced to change his approach to Saudi Arabia due to the geopolitical realities of short-term rising gas prices, long-term energy security challenges, the need to deter Iranian aggression in the region and the fear of leaving a void in the Middle East that China or Russia could fill.
- Russia and Iran: The White House released satellite images to continue warning that Russia is trying to acquire weapons-capable drones from Iran. This could help generate more support from Middle Eastern countries for efforts to defend Ukraine against Russia and further unite the region against Iran.
Energy security: The Saudi government did not mention oil production in its summary of joint agreements with the United States. The White House announcement said steps are expected “over the coming weeks” that “will help stabilize markets significantly.” The two countries said they were joining a clean energy initiative to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.
Ceasefire in Yemen: Saudi Arabia has agreed to extend a ceasefire in Yemen’s civil war, a conflict that has become a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has sparked one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. world.
- Khashoggi Murder: Biden said he brought up the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist who writes for the Washington Post, during his Friday meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. US intelligence thinks the crown prince likely approved of killing Khashoggi four years ago. Biden said the prince claimed he was not personally responsible. “I indicated that I thought he was,” Biden said.
- Towards normalization: Biden announced peacekeepers would leave the Red Sea island of Tiran by the end of the year, the latest sign that Saudi Arabia and Israel are moving towards normalization. The island, controlled by Egypt before being ceded to Saudi Arabia in 2017, has hosted US troops as part of the Multinational Force and observers since 1981 after Israel and Egypt struck a deal of peace.
- Opening of the airways: Saudi Arabia announced it would open its airspace to “all air carriers”, signaling the end of its long-standing ban on Israeli flights flying over their territory – a key step towards normalization between the two nations.
what will happen
Biden is attending a summit of Middle East leaders, those representing the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, a group known as GCC+3.
Biden plans to address America’s historic role in the region and his approach moving forward. He is expected to announce $1 billion in food security aid for the Middle East and North Africa.
Biden said he would discuss with Gulf Arab leaders their multi-billion dollar pledge to invest in a global infrastructure initiative to help low- and middle-income countries and counter China’s growing influence.
He will also meet one-on-one with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Biden raised his eyebrows as he exchanged a fist bump with Crown Prince Mohammed upon his arrival at the Al Salam Royal Palace in Jeddah for sensitive talks on energy, human rights and security in the Middle East.
Later, in a meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud and other Saudi leaders, reporters asked bin Salman if he apologized to the Khashoggi family and asked Biden if he considered always Saudi Arabia as a “pariah”. The president did not respond. The Crown Prince seemed to smile. The journalists were then escorted out.
Biden said the purpose of his trip was not to meet with the crown prince but to position the United States in the region for the future. “We are not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China,” he said.
What they say
- “The fist bump between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman was worse than a handshake – it was shameful,” Washington Post editor Fred Ryan said in a statement. “He projected a level of privacy and comfort that offers MBS the unwarranted redemption he so desperately seeks.”
- “If ever we needed a visual reminder of the continued grip of oil-rich autocrats on US foreign policy in the Middle East, we have it today,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, tweeted. . “A punch is worth a thousand words.”
why is it important
The administration argues that Biden is pursuing a more realistic strategy in the Middle East than past attempts at regime change and nation building through military force.
In an opinion piece outlining his reasons for taking a trip he admitted to being criticized, Biden said he would be the first president to travel to the Middle East since 9/11 without US troops engaged in a combat mission there.
If attempts to build partnerships and strengthen alliances are successful, Biden said, it could lead to a more secure and integrated Middle East, less likely to give rise to violent extremism or new wars.
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Contributor: The Associated Press