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Biden meets Gulf Arab countries to counter Iran threat

JEDDAH — President Joe Biden used a summit of Arab nations on Saturday to lay out his Middle East strategy as he wraps up the final leg of a four-day trip designed to boost U.S. relations in a region bracing for confrontation with Iran.

The president spent the morning meeting one-on-one with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, some of whom he has never sat down with.

Biden invited Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who became president of the UAE two months ago, to visit the White House this year, saying he looked forward to “another period of strong and growing cooperation” between their countries under the sheikh’s leadership.

The Gulf Cooperation Council summit, being held in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, is an opportunity for Biden to demonstrate his commitment to the region after spending most of his presidency focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s growing influence in Asia.

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Hours before the conference began, the White House released satellite images showing that Russian officials had recently visited Iran twice to view weapons-capable drones it wants to acquire for use in its war in Ukraine.

None of the countries represented at the summit moved in step with the US to sanction Russia, a key foreign policy priority for the Biden administration. If nothing else, the UAE has become something of a financial haven for Russian billionaires and their multi-million dollar yachts. Egypt remains open to Russian tourists.

The release of satellite images showing Russian officials visiting Kashan Airport on June 8 and July 15 to view the drones could help the administration better connect the significance of the war with many Arab nations’ own concerns about nuclear ambitions of Iran, its missile program and support for extremists in the region.

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A senior Biden administration official, who briefed reporters ahead of the summit, said Moscow’s efforts to acquire drones from Tehran showed Russia was “effectively betting on Iran.”

Biden’s attendance at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit follows his meeting on Friday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, de facto ruler of the oil-rich kingdom and heir to the throne currently held by his father, King Salman.

The president initially shunned Prince Mohammed because of human rights abuses, particularly the killing of US-based writer Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence officials say may have been approved by the crown prince.

But Biden decided he needed to restore the long-standing relationship between the two countries to deal with rising gas prices and promote stability in the volatile region.

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Biden and Prince Mohammed greeted each other with a fist bump when the president arrived at the royal palace in Jeddah, a gesture that was quickly criticized. Biden later said he was not shy about discussing Khashoggi’s assassination during their meeting.

The topic created a “frosty” start to the discussion, according to a US official familiar with the private conversations.

However, the atmosphere eventually became more relaxed, the official said, as they talked about energy security, the expansion of high-speed Internet access in the Middle East and other issues. Biden even tried to inject some humor into the conversation toward the end of the meeting, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news network, citing an unnamed Saudi source, reported that Prince Mohammed responded to Biden’s mention of Khashoggi by saying that attempts to impose a set of values ​​could backfire. He also said the US made mistakes at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, where detainees were tortured, and pressured Biden over the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akle during a recent Israeli attack on the Western city of Jenin. shore.

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Adel Al-Jubeir, the kingdom’s minister of state for foreign affairs, called the visit “a great success” and dismissed questions about friction between the two countries. .

“Maybe the skeptics are people who are looking for theatrics or drama. However, the reality is that this relationship is very stable,” he told Arab News, a Saudi news organization.

Biden, when he speaks to the Gulf Cooperation Council, will offer his most comprehensive vision yet of the region and the U.S. role there, the White House said. The Biden administration is also expected to announce $1 billion in food security aid for the Middle East and North Africa.

The president’s first visit to the Middle East comes 11 months after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan and as Biden aims to shift US priorities away from the Middle East’s destructive wars and ongoing conflicts stretching from Libya to Syria.

Energy prices — elevated since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — were expected to be high on the agenda. But Biden’s aides have played down expectations that he will leave with a deal for regional producers to boost supplies immediately.

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“I suspect you’re not going to see that for another couple of weeks,” Biden told reporters late Friday.

At the summit, Biden was scheduled to hear concerns about regional stability and security, food security, climate change and the continued threat of terrorism.

Overall, there isn’t much the nine Middle East heads of state agree on when it comes to foreign policy. For example, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE are trying to isolate and squeeze Iran over its regional reach and proxies. Oman and Qatar, on the other hand, have solid diplomatic ties with Iran and have acted as mediators in negotiations between Washington and Tehran.

Qatar recently hosted talks between US and Iranian officials trying to revive the Iran nuclear deal. Not only does Iran share a huge undersea gas field with Qatar in the Persian Gulf, it also came to Qatar’s aid when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties and imposed a long-standing embargo on Qatar that ended shortly before Biden took office. Position .

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Biden’s actions have disappointed some of the leaders. Although the US played an important role in promoting the months-long truce in Yemen, its decision to reverse a Trump-era move that included Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist group angered the Emirati and Saudi leadership.

As for U.S. concerns about China’s expanding reach, China appears willing to provide Saudi Arabia with missile and nuclear technology that the U.S. is hesitant to do. China is also the largest buyer of Saudi oil.

For Iraq, which has the deepest and strongest ties to Iran of any Arab country, its presence at the meeting reflects Saudi Arabia’s efforts – backed by the US – to bring Iraq closer to Arab positions and the so-called Arab group. Iraq has hosted several rounds of direct talks between Saudi and Iranian officials since Biden took office, although the talks have yielded poor results.

Before the meeting, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Qadhimi, who survived an armed drone attack in November, wrote in Foreign Policy that Iraq faces many problems but is working “to solve Iraqi problems with Iraqi solutions.”

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“When US President Joe Biden comes to the Middle East this week, he will arrive in a region facing multiple challenges, from terrorism to food insecurity and climate change,” he wrote. “But the Middle East is also a region that is increasingly facing these challenges together under the leadership of a group of leaders pursuing positive change.”

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Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Megerian and Miller reported from Washington.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.

Biden meets Gulf Arab countries to counter Iran threat

Source link Biden meets Gulf Arab countries to counter Iran threat

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