Biden fails to secure commitments on Middle East security axis, oil production rises

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Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz receives U.S. President Joe Biden at Al Salman Palace upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia July 15, 2022. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

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Middle East Security Axis

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz receives U.S. President Joe Biden at Al Salman Palace upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia July 15, 2022. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

President Joe Biden told Arab leaders on Saturday that the United States would remain an active partner in the Middle East, but he failed to secure commitments to a regional security axis that would include Israel or an immediate increase in security. oil production.

“The United States is invested in building a positive future for the region, in partnership with all of you — and the United States is going nowhere,” he said, according to a transcript of his speech.

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Biden, who kicked off his first trip to the Middle East as president with a visit to Israel, presented his vision and strategy for US engagement in the Middle East at an Arab summit in Jeddah.

The summit statement was vague, however, and Saudi Arabia, Washington’s most important Arab ally, poured cold water on American hopes that the summit could help lay the groundwork for a regional security alliance – including including Israel – to counter Iranian threats.

During a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Biden raised the highly sensitive issue of human rights, prompting counter criticism from the Crown Prince, also known as MbS.

“We think it is very useful to include as many capabilities as possible in this region and Israel certainly has significant air and missile defense capabilities, as they need them. But we have these bilateral discussions with these countries” , said a senior administration official. official told reporters.

A plan to connect air defense systems could be a tough sell for Arab states that have no ties to Israel and are reluctant to be part of an alliance seen as anti-Iran, which has a strong regional network of proxies including Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said he was not aware of any talks of a defense alliance between the Gulf and Israel and that the kingdom was not involved in any such discussions.

He told reporters after the US-Arab summit that Riyadh’s decision to open its airspace to all air carriers had nothing to do with establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and was not a precursor to new measures.

Biden focused on the summit with six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, while downplaying the meeting with MbS that drew criticism in the United States over human rights concerns. ‘man.

Biden had said he would make regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the world stage following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, but ultimately decided that US interests dictated a recalibration, and not a break in relations with the world’s leading oil group. exporter.

The crown prince told Biden that Saudi Arabia acted to prevent a repeat of mistakes like Khashoggi’s murder and that the United States also made mistakes, including in Iraq, a Saudi minister has said.

Punch

Biden traded a punch with MbS on Friday, but said he told him he held him responsible for killing Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“The president raised the issue… And the crown prince replied that it was a painful episode for Saudi Arabia and that it was a terrible mistake,” Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel said. al-Jubeir.

The defendants were brought to trial and received prison terms, he said.

US intelligence agencies believe the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder, which he denies.

Jubeir, speaking to Reuters about Friday’s conversation, said MbS argued that trying to impose values ​​on other countries by force could backfire.

“It didn’t work when the United States tried to impose values ​​on Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, it backfired,” Jubeir said, quoting the crown prince, to Biden. “Countries have different values ​​and these values ​​must be respected!

The exchange highlighted the tensions that have plagued relations between Washington and Riyadh, its closest Arab ally, over issues such as Khashoggi, oil prices and the war in Yemen.

Biden needs help from OPEC giant Saudi Arabia at a time of high crude prices and other issues related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Washington also wants to curb Iran’s hold in the region and China’s global influence.

Biden came to Saudi Arabia hoping to strike an oil production deal to help bring down gasoline prices that are driving inflation above 40-year highs and threatening his rating. approval.

He leaves the region empty-handed but hopes the OPEC+ group, including Saudi Arabia, Russia and other producers, will increase production at a meeting on August 3.

“I can’t wait to see what’s to come in the months ahead,” Biden said.

FOOD SAFETY

A second senior administration official said Biden would announce that Washington had committed $1 billion in new short- and long-term food security assistance for the Middle East and North Africa, and that the Gulf states would commit $3 billion over the next two years to projects that align with U.S. partnerships in infrastructure and global investments.

The Gulf states, which have refused to side with the West against Russia over Ukraine, are seeking concrete US engagement in strategic ties that have been strained due to the perceived US disengagement from the region.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have been frustrated by US conditions on arms sales and their exclusion from US-Iranian indirect talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear pact they see as flawed for failing to address concerns regarding Iran’s missile program and behavior.

Israel had encouraged Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia, hoping it would lead to warmer ties between him and Riyadh as part of a broader Arab rapprochement.

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