Biden’s First Mideast Visit to Focus on Regional Challenges

U.S. President Joe Biden this month will make his first visit to the Middle East since taking office 18 months ago.

He’ll meet in Saudi Arabia with the leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries and those from Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and they’ll discuss Iran’s threatening regional activities.

Meanwhile, talks to revive a nuclear deal with Iran are floundering, while global fuel prices remain high.

There has been a flurry of regional diplomatic activity involving the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt ahead of Biden’s visit. Also, there’s been talk of a possible NATO-style defense alliance for the Middle East envisioning greater cooperation on security and defense matters by Arab states and Israel to counterbalance Iran’s rising influence.   

 

Jordan’s King Abdullah said he already sees his country as a NATO “partner,” because it has worked closely with the alliance, and its troops have fought “shoulder to shoulder” with NATO forces in the past.  

Analyst Amer Al Sabaileh, a nonresident fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, told VOA that regional Sunni Muslim heavyweight Saudi Arabia wants to see its Shiite rival, Iran, contained.

“The Saudis don’t want to see again a new nuclear deal with Iran without their presence being taken into consideration,” Al Sabaileh said,  adding that they have long been concerned about “the aggressive, hostile Iranian policies in the region and the ballistic capacity of Iran.”

Kim Ghattas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaking at a Carnegie Middle East Center event, said tensions abound with Iran, and she questions whether any nuclear deal is achievable.

“There’s a lot of regional coordination between the U.S. and Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan to try to contain any fallout from rising tensions with Iran,” Ghattas said. “Iran is in a tight corner. They’re not getting the money [because of] the sanctions. They are seeing America’s allies in the region and countries that had been enemies — the UAE, Saudi Arabia — coming together publicly or privately. You’re seeing a kind of regional movement that allows [containment of] Iran, even if there is no nuclear deal.”

Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also told a Carnegie Middle East panel that while “oil is clearly a geopolitical strategic catalyst” for the Biden trip, he did not see a major change in crude production in the short term.

“Around the oil question, the administration has tried to wrap other American interests: resuming a functional relationship with Saudi Arabia, promoting the expansion of the Abraham Accords, maybe a Middle East air defense system with the Gulf, including Israel, may or may not be announced, and the prospect of moderate steps to enhance Saudi Arabia’s relations with the Israelis,” Miller said. 

He said the U.S. wants to change the perception that it is withdrawing from the Middle East.

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