US President Joe Biden is visiting the Middle East for the first time during his presidency. Thanks to the war in Ukraine, ties to the resource-rich region are of even greater importance to both Europe and the United States. The bid’s agenda includes a stop in Israel and a controversial meeting with the leader of Saudi Arabia. What does the president hope to achieve with this trip?
First of all, it is striking how long it took Biden to travel to the Middle East. Former President Trump was the first to travel to Saudi Arabia and Israel four months after his election, while Biden as president has first strengthened ties with European and Asian allies with visits to Europe and Asia.
Israel is considered a faithful ally of the United States and is perhaps a necessary stop for Biden. He is speaking here with current Prime Minister Lapid and former Prime Minister Netanyahu. He also visits the West Bank and meets with Palestinian authorities. While Biden is in favor of a two-state solution to the Palestinian question, he is not expected to say much about it.
In Jerusalem, Biden especially wants to hear how relations between Israel and the Arab countries are developing. Since he last visited the region in 2016, thanks in part to Trump and the ‘Abraham agreement’ he elaborated, Israel has strengthened diplomatic relations with Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
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By signing these agreements, Arab countries have indicated that they consider Iran a bigger and more important issue than the Palestinian question. This is a development that Biden has also accepted. In response to questions about his trip, he said that “one of the goals of the trip to the Middle East is to deepen Israel’s integration into the region.”
The Wall Street Journal reported in June that the US government would even work behind the scenes with Saudi Arabia and Israel on treaties to strengthen economic ties. A stepping stone to a normal diplomatic relationship between the two countries, which now officially does not exist.
Which brings us to part two of Biden’s journey, which flies Friday from Israel to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. An escape that is currently impossible for the citizens due to the diplomatic relationship between the two countries. The bite has been criticized domestically for this trip. He is gently reminded that during the presidential campaign he said he would ensure that Saudi Arabia would become a pariah state because of the human rights situation and the brutal assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In Jeddah, Biden meets with Crown Prince Bin Salman, the man responsible for Khashoggi’s assassination, according to US intelligence. In an article in The Washington Post over the weekend, Biden defended his meeting by pointing out that Saudi Arabia is a crucial player in the broader fight against China and Russia.
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Biden will also attend a conference of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the consultation forum for the Gulf states, which this time also includes Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. Although Biden is not expected to officially announce the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia here, it is expected that new steps will be taken.
The war in Ukraine also plays a role here. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would be the only oil-producing countries able to increase their energy production even more. Biden will ask these countries to produce more oil to help the West become less dependent on Russia.
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From Biden’s foreign policy to date, it is clear that for him, China is by far the biggest concern, then Russia and stability in Europe. The Middle East comes in third place. US media point out that the president primarily wants to ensure that the region remains calm and that Iran’s influence does not increase. Biden: “I am the first president to visit the Middle East since 9/11 without U.S. troops on a combat mission there. My goal is to keep it that way.”
One such example is the news agency Reuters, which reports that Biden is considering allowing Saudi Arabia to resume the purchase of US offensive weapons if progress is made to end the war in Yemen. There has been a ceasefire in Yemen since April. With this promise, Biden was able to make the temporary peace permanent.
The bite’s journey begins today. He will spend a total of two days in Israel and two days in Saudi Arabia.