Biden hopes for Israel’s inclusion at Arab summit in Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 16 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will discuss regional missile and defense capabilities on Saturday when he meets Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, where he will seek to integrate Israel as part of a a new focus largely driven by shared concerns about Iran, a senior administration official said.

“We think it is very useful to include as many capabilities as possible in this region and Israel certainly has significant air and missile defense capabilities, as they need them. But we have these bilateral discussions with these countries” , said the administration official. told reporters.

Biden, on his first trip to the Middle East as president, focused on the planned summit with six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq while downplaying the meeting with the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman. This meeting sparked criticism in the United States over human rights violations.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

Biden had promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the world stage following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2018, but ultimately decided that US interests dictated a recalibration, not a break, in relations with the world’s largest oil exporter and the Arabs. central.

The US leader said he raised Khashoggi’s murder at the top of his meeting with the Saudi crown prince on Friday and that the silence on the issue of human rights is ‘inconsistent with who we are and who I am’ . Read more

Saudi TV Al Arabiya, quoting a Saudi official, said the crown prince told Biden that if the United States only deals with countries that share his values ​​100%, then he would only have countries of NATO to work with.

Biden needs help from OPEC giant Saudi Arabia at a time of high crude prices and other issues related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and as he encourages efforts to put end to the war in Yemen, where a temporary truce is in place. Washington also wants to curb Iran’s hold in the region and China’s global influence.

The administration official said the United States hoped to see an increase in OPEC production in the coming weeks. Biden should pressure other Gulf producers to pump more oil. The OPEC+ alliance, which includes Russia, will meet next on August 3.

The US president, who began his trip to the region with a visit to Israel, will hold bilateral talks with the leaders of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq before taking part in the larger summit where he will “outline clearly” its vision and strategy for US engagement in the Middle East, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Friday.

“He intends to make sure there is no vacuum in the Middle East that China and Russia can fill,” Sullivan said.

Another senior administration official said Biden would announce that the United States had committed $1 billion in new short- and long-term food security assistance for the Middle East and North Africa, and that Gulf States would commit $3 billion over the next two years to projects that align with U.S. partnerships in global infrastructure and investment.

The Gulf states, which have refused to side with the West against Russia in the Ukraine conflict, are in turn seeking concrete US engagement in strategic ties that have been strained by the perceived US disengagement from the region.

IRAN’S CONCERNS

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have been frustrated by US conditions on arms sales and for being excluded from US-Iranian indirect talks aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear pact they see as flawed for failing to address regional concerns over Tehran’s missile program and behavior.

“The most important demand from Saudi leaders and other Gulf leaders — and Arabs in general — is for clarity in US policy and its direction toward the region,” said Abdulaziz Sager, president of the Riyadh-based Gulf Research Center. .

Israel, which shares its concerns about Iran, has encouraged Biden’s trip to the kingdom, hoping it would foster warming between Saudi Arabia and Israel as part of a broader Arab rapprochement after the UAE and Bahrain forged ties with Israel in US-brokered pacts that received Riyadh’s blessings.

In a sign of progress in what Biden described as a revolutionary process, Saudi Arabia said on Friday it would open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more overflights to and from of Israel.

Washington and Riyadh also announced the withdrawal of the United States and other peacekeepers from Tiran, an island located between Saudi Arabia and Egypt in a strategic position leading to the Israeli port of Eilat. The troops were stationed under agreements reached in 1978 that led to a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

A plan to connect air defense systems could be a tough sell for Arab states that have no ties to Israel and are reluctant to be part of an alliance seen as anti-Iran, which has built a strong network of proxies in the region, including in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

A senior Emirati official, Anwar Gargash, said on Friday that the idea of ​​a so-called NATO in the Middle East was difficult and that bilateral cooperation was faster and more effective. Read more

The UAE, he said, would not support a confrontational approach: “We are open to cooperation, but not cooperation aimed at any other country in the region and I specifically mention Iran.”

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Register

Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan in Jeddah and John Irish in Paris Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Michael Georgy Editing by Daniel Wallis and Frances Kerry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

About Linda Jackson

Check Also

At least 16 people die in ‘epic’ Kentucky floods, including 6 children

July 29 (Reuters) – The death toll in eastern Kentucky rose to at least 16 …