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Biden Returned from a Visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia Without Any Original Proposals

Biden se cita con Abás luego de su visita a Israel y afirma que Palestina merece su propio Estado

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President Joe Biden returned to the White House after four days in the Middle East. It is interesting to underline that his positions closely resembled those of Donald Trump, perhaps because reality leaves no room for the naive. Regional diplomacy has always been complex; many countries have long-standing conflicts and do not even have diplomatic relations.

Biden promised that the United States would not abandon the area. The White House tried to calm rulers who had been organizing their course of action for years in the face of Teheran’s expansionism. Before meeting with the Saudi crown prince, the president met with Egyptian leader Abdel-Fatah Sisi, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi, and the leader of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. Such activity, in a visit that also included representatives from Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman, demonstrates how much is expected of Washington.

In his pre-summit speech, Bin Salman urged the Iranians to be “cooperative and not to interfere in regional affairs.” Biden, who had just signed a compromise in Jerusalem to use “all resources” to prevent an Iranian atomic weapon, again outlined a new “axis of evil” of sorts. Iran has denied for years that it is seeking nuclear weapons —no one believes them— requesting that it refines uranium for civilian energy uses. Iran also claims its violations of the 2015 nuclear deal are reversible if the U.S. does not lift sanctions and returns to the agreement.

Indirect talks between Iran and the Biden administration—which aim at being back into compliance with the agreement— have been stalled since March. Tehran stated that he would never negotiate its missile program or regional policy, as demanded by the West and its allies.

Last week’s U.S.-Israel agreement — the Jerusalem Declaration — includes a joint stance against the Persian nuclear program and regional aggression, stating that they will use “all elements of power” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

According to a joint statement released by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on Saturday, Washington and Riyadh agreed on the importance of preventing Iran from “acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

“We will not leave”

“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran,” the American president stressed during the summit. “Let me state clearly that the United States will remain an active and engaged partner in the Middle East. As the world grows more competitive, and the challenges we face more complex, it is only becoming clearer to me how closely interwoven our interests are with the successes of the Middle East,” Biden stressed.

With these words, the White House sought to calm and regain the confidence of leaders who have spent the last few years opening their diplomatic channels, some outside Washington and contrary to their interests. For these leaders, the alarm bell was the chaotic withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, along with partial withdrawals in Iraq and Syria. The election of Biden and his promise to defend human rights also unsettled the desert dictators.

Thus, on the sidelines of the United States, the Saudis avoided condemning Russia for the invasion of Ukraine; the Emiratis have opened their doors to the oligarchs; Riyadh has leaned on China for an incipient nuclear race and has forged with the Huzi movement, supported by the Iranians, a truce in Yemen. According to the Pentagon, Moscow wants Iran to sell its combat drones while the chances of resurrecting the nuclear pact diminish by the day.

Joe Biden went to the Middle East to show an alternative path. This strategy involves putting together a political and military front against Iran with Israel, reinforcing the Abraham Accords created by Trump. Riyadh announced that it would allow Israeli planes to fly without limit in its airspace. Saudi foreign policy chief, Faisal bin Farhan, pointed out that such a gesture does not imply, for now, a defensive alliance with Jerusalem.

While the critical reason for easing humanitarian pressure on Riyadh was to demand that it increase crude oil production, what was achieved was less than expected. The announcement stated that Saudi Arabia would increase its “capacity to 13 million” barrels per day. The world’s largest producer did not commit to extracting a specific amount to lower prices, triggered by the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Moscow. However, the White House assured that steps to stabilize the markets would be seen “in the coming weeks.”

If Saudi Arabia decides to increase the pace of production, this announcement will most likely be during the OPEC+ meeting —on August 3—which includes OPEC and several countries led by Russia.

Riyadh is also slowly moving closer to Israel

Another point where results are soon to be seen is the rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Biden made two announcements during the trip: Riyadh will open its airspace to Israeli civilian flights and, in addition, will allow ships from the Hebrew state to continue to enjoy the freedom of navigation in the waters surrounding two strategic Red Sea islands. 

 “These are very significant moves. They are historic,” National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby, said. Washington wants to see its two main regional allies establish diplomatic relations. Still, it could take time, even after the Abraham Accords, under which Israel normalized relations with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco.

To the Palestinian dictatorship in Ramallah, Biden pledged $315 million in aid. It is to go to the hospital network and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). This organization, accused of inciting hatred and supporting terrorism, lost American support under the Trump Administration (2017-2021). In any case, one hundred of the millions have not been approved by Congress. 

One issue in doubt is whether the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict regained strength after almost disappearing. Trump’s support for Israel included recognizing Jerusalem as its capital and Hebrew sovereignty in the Golan. Biden, who maintained both measures, reiterated his commitment to that goal. However, he did not make any concrete proposals because the ground “is not fertile,” something evident given Ramallah’s inoperability, the funding of terrorist families, and the dominance of the Islamic group Hamas in Gaza.

Despite the need to repair relations, basically because of the oil demand, Biden mentioned Khashoggi’s murder during his meeting with Crown Prince Bin Salman. He tried to make it clear that Washington would always defend human rights, even if it must also look after other interests.  “For an American president to be silent on an issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am. I always stand up for our values,” Biden noted in the face of criticism for meeting with Bin Salman. The CIA blamed him for ordering the 2018 murder of opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The visit showed differences between the U.S. and Israel over the Persian nuclear program. Biden defended diplomacy, although he warned that his patience was running out. Israeli Premier, Yair Lapid, advocated putting a credible military threat on the table to stop the Islamic theocracy.

Eduardo Zalovich, Uruguayan-Israeli, is a history professor and journalist. He has written for several media, such as La Vanguardia, El Confidencial, Vozpopuli, Búsqueda and Correo de los Viernes. Zalovich analyzes, from the Middle East, the reality of the region and international politics. // Eduardo Zalovich, uruguayo-israelí, es profesor de Historia y periodista. Ha escrito para varios medios, como La Vanguardia, El Confidencial, Vozpopuli, Búsqueda y Correo de los Viernes. Analiza, desde el Medio Oriente, la realidad de la zona y la política internacional.

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