- Biden says the US will remain committed to allies
- The United States hopes to integrate Israel
- Saudi crown prince backtracks on human rights issue
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 16 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden told Arab leaders on Saturday that the United States would remain an active partner in the Middle East, but failed to secure commitments to a regional security hub that would include Israel or an immediate rise in oil production. oil.
“The United States is invested in building a positive future for the region, in partnership with all of you — and the United States is not going anywhere,” he said, according to the text of his speech.
Biden, who began his first trip to the Middle East as president with a visit to Israel, presented his vision and strategy for America’s engagement in the Middle East at an Arab summit in Jeddah.
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However, the summit statement was ambiguous, and Washington’s most important Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, poured cold water on US hopes that the summit would help lay the foundation for a regional security alliance – including Israel – to combat Iranian threats.
During a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Biden raised the highly sensitive issue of human rights, prompting counter criticism from the crown prince, also known as Mohammed bin Salman.
“We think there is a lot of value in including as many capabilities as possible in this region, and certainly Israel has significant air and missile defense capabilities, as they need. But we are having these discussions bilaterally with these countries,” an official told reporters.
It could be difficult to sell a plan to link air defense systems to Arab countries that have no ties to Israel and refuse to be part of an alliance seen as against Iran, which has a powerful regional network of proxies including Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, said he was not aware of any discussions about a Gulf-Israel defense alliance and that the kingdom was not involved in such talks.
He told reporters after the US-Arab summit that Riyadh’s decision to open its airspace to all airlines has nothing to do with establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and is not a prelude to further steps. Read more
Biden focused on the summit with six Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, while playing down the meeting with Mohammed bin Salman, which has drawn criticism in the United States over human rights concerns.
Biden said he would make Saudi Arabia a regional power “pariah” on the world stage over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, but ultimately decided that US interests dictated a recalibration, not a rupture, in relations with the world’s largest oil. source.
A Saudi minister said the crown prince told Biden that Saudi Arabia had acted to prevent a repeat of mistakes such as the Khashoggi murder and that the United States had also made mistakes, including in Iraq.
Biden exchanged a fist with Mohammed bin Salman on Friday, but said he told him he held him responsible for Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
“The president raised the issue…the crown prince replied that this is a painful episode for Saudi Arabia and that it was a grave mistake,” Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said.
He said that the defendants were brought to trial and were sentenced to long prison terms.
US intelligence agencies believe that the crown prince ordered the murder of Khashoggi, which he denies.
Al-Jubeir told Reuters about the conversation that took place on Friday that Mohammed bin Salman stressed that trying to impose values on other countries by force might backfire.
Al-Jubeir quoted the crown prince as telling Biden, “It didn’t work when the United States tried to impose values on Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, it backfired.” “Countries have different values and those values must be respected!”
The exchange highlighted tensions that have affected relations between Washington and Riyadh, its closest Arab ally, on issues including the Khashoggi case, oil prices and the Yemen war.
Biden needs the help of OPEC giant Saudi Arabia at a time of rising crude oil prices and other problems related to the Russia-Ukrainian conflict. Washington also wants to curb Iran’s influence in the region and China’s global influence.
Biden came to Saudi Arabia hoping for a deal on oil production to help bring down gasoline prices that are driving inflation to 40-year highs and threatening his approval ratings.
He left the region empty-handed but hoped the OPEC+ group, which includes Saudi Arabia, Russia and other producers, would boost production at a meeting on August 3.
“I look forward to seeing what comes in the coming months,” Biden said.
A second senior administration official said Biden will announce that Washington has committed $1 billion in new short and long-term food security assistance to the Middle East and North Africa, and that Gulf states will commit $3 billion over the next two years in projects aligned with U.S. partnerships in global infrastructure and investment.
The Gulf states, which have refused to side with the West against Russia over Ukraine, are seeking a tangible US commitment to strategic relations strained by a perceived US disengagement in the region.
Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have been frustrated by US conditions on arms sales and have been excluded from indirect talks between the US and Iran on reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement they see as flawed for not addressing concerns about Iran’s missile program and behavior.
Israel had encouraged Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, hoping that it would lead to closer relations between it and Riyadh within the framework of a broader Arab rapprochement.
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Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan in Jeddah and John Irish in Paris.
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