Joe Biden made his first visit to the Middle East nearly 18 months after assuming his presidency. During the four-day mission from July 13-16, the US President visited the highly strategic Israel, Palestine and Saudi Arabia. He met the heads of these nations to confront the challenges facing the Middle East. Nevertheless, Biden’s primary intention was to resolve the economic and diplomatic issues generated during the Ukraine War.
With the Russia-Ukraine War and several other severe conflicts between the nations, this meeting has a crucial role in the current world order. Throughout the visits, Washington primarily focused on reinventing the US’s alliance with the region that had been altered for a long time and replanting the former’s foreign policy with the latter.
US-Saudi Relations Before Biden’s Visit
A modern diplomatic relationship between the USA and Saudi Arabia began in 1945, during the reign of US President Franklin D Roosevelt and Saudi King Abdul Azeez. Both nations had a fluctuating relationship throughout these decades. The two nations’ disagreements during these decades ranged from the 2001 September 11 Al-Qaeda Attacks to the 2018 Washington Post -Columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in Istanbul. Even during the presidency of Donald Trump, their bilateral relationship did not accomplish any significant progress.
After Biden ascended to power, his bond with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman failed to achieve a good correlation. The assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident Washington Post journalist, was among the causes of such a disrupted relationship. The US intelligence agency (CIA) has reported that it occurred with the knowledge of the Saudi Crown. During his presidential campaign in 2020, Biden called Saudi Arabia a ‘Pariah State’ and stressed that his administration would isolate Saudi internationally. Furthermore, he also put an abrupt stop to the support of the offensive operation held in Yemen.
The Russia-Ukraine war has resulted in a series of security and economic problems for the entire world, especially the West. The West collectively imposed several economic sanctions on Russia, and as a result, Europe fell into a severe energy crisis. In this instance, the USA welcomed the OPEC+ nations to take necessary actions to overcome this oil crisis. All these events led Washington to announce Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia.
Israel and Palestine Status Quo
Israel is the United States’ most vital strategic partner in the Middle East. However, the US has not recognized the State of Palestine until now.
Palestine and Israel’s decade-long disputes are rooted in acquiring the Holy land of Jerusalem and disputes over borders. Changing administration in the US has supported chiefly the two-state solution to bring peace into the region.
Biden Administration reiterated that the US would support the two-state formation but has not taken up any necessary negotiations to attain the same. Moreover, the Palestinians supported him during the 2020 presidential election. However, after his takeover of the administration, he did not give much attention to the place, and this caused dissatisfaction among the people of Palestine. For instance, Biden was highly criticized for his statements defending the right of Israel to protect itself from Palestine attacks during the 2021 conflict. Moreover, he failed to condemn Israel for its violation of international law.
Objectives of Biden’s Visit
1. Oil Crisis
Following the invasion of Ukraine, the US banned oil export from Russia. The US exports 3% of crude oil from Russia, a relatively small percentage. However, the situation is different for US’s NATO allies in Europe. The high reliance of the continent on Russia’s energy imports makes the situation much worse. This complex circumstance urged the US president to visit the OPEC+ nations.
2. Iran’s Nuclear Threat
The USA is terrified about the plans of Iran to revive its nuclear programme and to get more nuclear weapons. These threats have created a caution. Therefore Biden also intended to form a counter-alliance by bringing together the Middle East region to side with the US against Iran.
“Iran is enriching uranium at an unprecedented rate and moving dangerously close to getting their hands on nuclear weapons.”Naftali Bennett, former Israel Prime Minister
3. Preventing Russian and Chinese Intrusion into the Middle East
In the absence of the US, Russia and China tried to establish power in the Middle East. Allying with Iran, Russia influenced those regions, and China tried to build trade relations with the Middle East nations. Biden aspired to reduce these interventions and to give the whole world a message that the US would remain the primary ally of the Middle East.
4. GCC+3 Summit
The White House had initially declared that Biden’s primary objective for a visit was to participate in the Security and Development Summit (GCC+3) held in Saudi Arabia. At the summit, he met the leaders of six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The summit mainly aimed to discuss regional security and bilateral relations with the US.
Impact of the Visit
The US initiated talks with the deputy prime minister of the world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman. Biden demanded that the Crown Prince increase the production of oil and the quantity of oil exported from Jeddah to Washington. He further emphasized that Saudi Arabia must reiterate the US’s needs and requirements to the OPEC+ nations meeting on August 3, 2022.
Joe Biden signed a treaty, the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration, with Israel Prime Minister Yair Lapid against Iran’s nuclear threats. The treaty aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. As per the statement, the US will use their entire elements of national power to check Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The tour has improved the US’s relationship with Israel and GCC+ countries to some extent. As a result of the talks, Saudi Arabia opened their Air route to Israel. Biden also stressed to Israel and GCC nations the need to stand together to make a counter-alliance against Iran and its allies. Nevertheless, this visit could be considered the first step in a long game where the US will redefine its policies on regional cooperation.
The Middle East visit was controversial right from the start and indeed a diplomatic challenge to the US President. Irrespective of the controversy, the tour was a timely necessity for Biden as his approval rate was plummeting due to the high inflation rate.
The Middle East tour will play a significant role in the upcoming US mid-term elections. Suppose the US can overcome the situation of the oil crisis that arose during the Russian-Ukraine war and bring down the inflation rate. In that case, it will positively influence the election to maintain the Democratic majority of Congress. Thus Biden’s Middle East tour will not only improve the diplomatic relation with the Middle East nations but also pave the way for a successful election for the Democrats.
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About the Author
Apart from being a talented football player and a hodophile, Unais is also an active social worker in Kerala. He is pursuing his master’s degree from Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, in International Relations and Politics. From his political science background, he has a keen interest in areas like Migration and Refugee Studies, Gender Studies and World Politics.