Four-day journey of President Joe Biden to the Middle East has come to an end. From Wednesday to Saturday (13th-16th July 2022), the President of the USA was in Israel and Saudi Arabia, where he met with the leaders of both aforementioned countries and with the authorities of Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, and the President of Palestinian Authority. He participated in the USA-GCC+3 (Gulf Cooperation Council + Egypt, Iraq, Jordan) Summit and the new format I2U2 (India, Israel, UAE, and the USA). Among a plethora of raised issues, those deserve particular attention: the Iranian nuclear program, economic and infrastructural initiatives in light of Chinese concerns, energetic security (the oil market in particular), Israeli-Arab relations, and regional security.
The Iranian Issue
In the multilateral statement issued by the USA and countries of GCC (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait) in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), the parties reaffirmed the commitment to the idea that the Gulf region should be free from the weapons of mass destruction, and support for the diplomatic efforts aimed at stopping Iranian nuclear program. Jeddah Communique (joint American-Saudi statement), included a declaration about the need for further deterrence of “Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of other countries” and “its efforts to destabilize the security and stability of the region”. In the speech delivered during the GCC+3 (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan), Biden reaffirmed that the USA “will not walk away” from the Middle East and that they “will not leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran”.
Economic and Infrastructural Initiatives
In the face of intensifying American-Chinese rivalry and its progressing transformation into the clash between ‘The West’ and China (or, more broadly, the entire authoritarian world), it must be mentioned that during Biden’s journey, the number of bi- and multilateral initiatives was discussed and/or announced.
Firstly, on the 14th of July, the state-leaders of the newly-launched initiative I2U2 (India, Israel, UAE, USA) held their first (virtual) summit. The sides agreed that they should build connectivity in the area of the Middle East by supporting private investment in a broadly construed infrastructure, food, and health security, space exploration, new technologies, green transformation, etc. Within the framework of one of those initiatives, the UAE is set to invest 2 billion dollars in the development of a series of integrated food parks in India, aimed at reduction of food waste and spoilage, conservation of fresh water, and maximization of crop productivity through the latest technologies. The venture is intended to increase food security in the areas of South Asia and the Middle East. Under the second initiative, the parties are set to build a hybrid 124 MV plant in the Indian state of Gujarat.
Secondly, the USA and Israel have launched a strategic dialogue in the field of technology (Strategic High-Level Dialogue on Technology). The goals of the initiative involve: combining the technological capacities of both countries in a new, refined format that will more efficiently deal with the current challenges; protection of critical innovations and technologies, and promotion of shared values. The Strategic Dialogue will be held annually, starting in the Fall of 2022.
Thirdly, as part of détente in American-Saudi relations, Riyadh will engage financially in the project of Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) announced by President Biden at the G7 Summit in June 2022. Furthermore, the parties agreed to combine efforts in the fields of 5G/6G technologies, cybersecurity, space exploration (Saudis opted to enter the Artemis Accords – an agreement launched by Washington that so far has involved 20 countries), public health, and clean energy. Mr. Biden chose a new start in bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia, nonetheless, during the meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) he did mention the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, and further expressed his conviction that MBS is responsible for orchestrating that.
Fourthly, the USA plans to expand its cooperation with the Arab states to bolster the infrastructural, economic and technological ties. For instance, GCC countries are considering the input of 3 billion USD into the PGII initiative. Along with Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan, they chose to join the “Roadmap for Global Food Security – Call to Action” – the initiative started by the USA in May 2022. The USA is bound to contribute financially to the food aid programs in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
The Palestinian Issue
In the joint American-Israeli statement, Joe Biden reaffirmed his support for the Two-state solution – i.e. the simultaneous existence of the Jewish and the Palestinian states, where both the Israelis, and the Palestinians could “achieve equal measures of security, prosperity, freedom, and democracy”. The communique issued after the meeting of Biden and Mahmud Abbas – the President of the Palestinian Authority – included the same message. Additionally, POTUS reaffirmed that the USA recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Speaking alongside President Abbas, Biden ensured that Washington will continue to insist on a “full and transparent accounting” of the death of Shireen Abu-Akleh – American-Palestinian Al-Jazeera journalist who was killed by the Israeli units in May 2022. In the speech delivered in Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, Joe Biden recalled his Irish roots and compared the fate of Palestinians under Israeli administration to the situation of Irish people under the British rule. In a separate statement, POTUS announced a number packages worth in total of 316 billion dollars, and aimed to support the Palestinian society and state in the following areas: healthcare, technology, economy, food, refugee aid, and finally dialogue and cooperation between the Israelis and Palestinians. Back in April 2021, Biden’s administration announced the revival of aid programs dedicated to Palestine, which in 2018 were cut by Trump’s administration.
In the series of statements and speeches (I2U2, American-Israeli Joint Statement, USA-Bahrain, and USA-UAE talks), the sides expressed the commitment to fostering peace in the Middle East through the Abraham Accords. Saudi Arabia announced the reopening of its airspace to all airplanes that comply with Saudi regulations, which applies also to Israeli commercial flights.
The USA and the Gulf states will tighten their cooperation in the field of maritime (Combined Task Force 153 and Task Force 59), anti-drone, anti-missile, and other forms of defense. The issue of Yemen played a significant role in talks between Saudis and Americans. Since the 2nd of April, a fragile truce, extended by another two months, has been in place. Both capitals opt for its further extension, though it will probably make up a very challenging task. Both sides are also committed to the Two-state Solution for Israel and Palestine, however, this vision remains distant. Friday 16th of July 2022 brought an agreement on connecting the Iraqi power grid to the Gulf-states’ grid. The USA and Saudi Arabia issued declarations that pertain to the situation in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria, as well as in Ukraine, however, those did not include any seminal shifts in standpoints.
During a couple of weeks preceding Biden’s journey, the White House vowed that the raw materials markets will only be one among many issues raised throughout talks in Riyadh. During the flight from Tel-Aviv to Jeddah, Jake Sullivan even claimed that the audience should not expect any special declarations regarding the extraction of oil, since all pertinent decisions will be made within OPEC+. Nevertheless, for a significant period, Joe Biden has been seeking to decrease oil prices in global prices.
In the speech delivered at the GCC Summit, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who holds actual power in Saudi Arabia, declared the increase in the production capacities from 12 million barrels of oil a day to 13 barrels a day up until 2027. He added that it is a technical limit of the Kingdom. He also claimed that further investment should be channeled both into clean energy sources and fossil fuels, as the “unrealistic energy policies based on eliminating the main energy sources” will lead to “unprecedented inflation” and social problems.
Joe Biden’s journey to the Middle East was significant due to a number of reasons. First of all, it clearly showed in the symbolic and practical dimension that the USA is not disregarding that region, even despite the facts of controversial withdrawal from Afghanistan, prioritizing the Indo-Pacific region, and directing the attention mostly at Russian aggression in Ukraine. Secondly, fostering the economic and infrastructural bonds with the developing countries is vital for the USA to build a strong bid in rivalry with China and counter the Chinese, Russian, and Iranian interference. The fruits of all of these efforts shall come with time. Thirdly, Biden had an opportunity to reassure the allies and partners in the conviction that Washington will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear armament. The declaration of using power as a last resort might be soon verified, considering the advancements that the Ajatollahs’ regime is making in enriching the uranium.
The absence of seminal declarations with regard to oil extraction should not be counted as a disappointment, as no one expected them. The meeting of the OPEC+ countries, panned for the 3rd of August 2022, will tell how influential Joe Biden effectively was. POTUS said that based on the talks held in SA, he expects to see further steps in increasing the supply of the resource in the upcoming weeks.
The rapprochement with Riyadh despite the declarations from 2019 to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the international stage, did stir some significant controversies. In terms of image, it is a defeat, nonetheless, some potential successes achieved in the crude game of interests might prospectively yield benefits which could probably, at least to some extent, mitigate the temporarily bad renown. Raising Khashoggi’s case during the talks with MBS was symbolically important, however, the chance that it will entail some significant changes in SA is relatively little.
Translator: Marcin Pijaj