Cairo, Egypt | Zhi Linfei & Li Rui – Xinhua | Joe Biden on Saturday concluded his first visit to the Middle East as the U.S. president, achieving a limited number of strategic goals on his selfish agenda.
He neither succeeded in his bid to form a regional military alliance against Iran, nor convinced Saudi Arabia to act immediately to raise oil output.
As a matter of fact, even before his arrival, there was a low expectation for any breakthrough during his trip designed mainly to salvage his declining approval ratings back home amid a rising inflation and an ailing economy.
ATTEMPT TO FORM ANTI-IRAN ALLIANCE
In Israel, the first leg of his four-day trip, Biden signed the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, pledging to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Despite Biden’s show of unity, Israel was displeased with his continued efforts to restore the Iranian 2015 nuclear deal.
Israel considers Iran as its arch foe and has continuously voiced concern over its nuclear aspirations, though Iran insists its nuclear program is not for military purposes.
The United States, together with other world powers, has been engaged in negotiations with Iran on reviving the 2015 Iranian nuclear pact since last year. The United States unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, but the Biden administration hopes to restore the deal through indirect talks with Iran.
“The real issue is what the U.S. is going to do about Iran, which is what Israel is very much concerned about, and we know that there are differences of opinion between Israel and the U.S. on this issue,” said Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, an Israeli think tank.
Moreover, Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, clouded by domestic criticism and his previous promise to punish the kingdom for its “human rights record,” failed to realize the goal of normalizing ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of which have strained relations with Iran.
Analysts warned that Biden’s bid to create a regional anti-Iran security alliance, aka the Middle East version of NATO, still faces obstacles.
In the Arab world, differences exist with regard to how to deal with the so-called growing Iranian threat. Qatar has long had close ties with Tehran, while the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said it will not seek confrontation with Iran.
UAE President’s Diplomatic Adviser Anwar Gargash clearly stated on Friday that the UAE will not be part of any group that targets Iran because the country is against “the idea of creating any axis” against Tehran.
Sinem Cengiz, a Turkish political analyst, told Saudi Arabia-based English-language newspaper, Arab News, that those countries involved still disagree on whether cooperation should be focused on the integration of air defense systems, or include intelligence sharing and military operations, and there is also a debate about whether to create a new alliance or improve the existing structures.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned on Thursday that any “mistakes” by the United States and its allies to stoke a regional crisis will receive a “decisive” response from Iran that will make them regret.
INACTION ON ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN ISSUE
During his visit to Israel and a short stay in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Biden made no real push for reviving the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, ignoring the Palestinians’ repeated calls.
After meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, Biden only reiterated his “commitment to the goal of a two-state solution,” and added that such a goal “seems so far away.”
Abbas urged the U.S. president to create a political atmosphere to achieve a just, comprehensive, and lasting peace in the region based on international resolutions and the two-state solution.
Experts also warned that amid the growing ties between Israel and major Arab countries in recent years, the Palestinian issue has been increasingly marginalized. The priorities of the U.S. agenda in the region have shifted to containing Iran and to maintaining the U.S. hegemony.
“The essence of Biden’s visit is to arrange a regional alliance to secure the American interests and confront Iran,” said Ramzi Rabah, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, calling on Biden to fulfill his promises to the Palestinians.
In the past days, thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip held protests against Biden’s visit, slamming his biased pro-Israeli stance on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.
NO IMMEDIATE SAUDI ACTION ON OIL OUTPUT
On Friday afternoon, Biden flew to Jeddah, a coastal city of Saudi Arabia, where he met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.
On Saturday, the U.S. president also took part in a summit meeting with leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Jordanian King Abdullah II, and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
One of the major goals of Biden’s controversial visit to Saudi Arabia is to persuade the kingdom to sharply increase oil production to stabilize the energy market impacted by the Ukraine crisis as well as the U.S. and its allies’ sanctions on Russia.
Pressured by the rising inflation and a continued slide of his approval ratings back home, Biden tries to lower the oil prices by seeking help from oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi crown prince, who traded barbs with Biden over the human rights issue at their meeting, indicated at the summit that the kingdom will increase oil production to 13 million barrels per day at most, warning that “unrealistic energy policies would lead to higher inflation.”
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said that “OPEC+ would continue to assess market conditions and do what is necessary.”
The OPEC+, the group of oil-producing nations led by Saudi Arabia, will meet on Aug. 3.
In fact, the kingdom’s real GDP grew by 10 percent in the first quarter of 2022, largely thanks to the sustained rally in oil prices, according to official data.
(Xinhua writers Gao Wencheng, Yao Bing, Wang Haizhou, Wang Feng and Hu Guan also contributed to the story.)