US ‘will not walk away’ from Middle East: Biden at Saudi summit


President Biden said US is going to remain an active engaged partner in the Middle East, focusing on regional ties.

US President Joe Biden is using a summit of Arab nations to lay out his strategy for the Middle East as he closes the final leg of a four-day trip meant to bolster ties in the region.

At the summit that took off in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah on Saturday, Biden said the United States “will not walk away” from the Middle East.

Leaders of six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates – plus Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq will be holding talks on regional security and bilateral relations with the United States at the summit.

“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran,” Biden said. “We will seek to build on this moment with active, principled, American leadership.”

Although US forces continue to target armed groups in the region and remain deployed at bases throughout the Middle East, Biden suggested that he was turning the page after Washington’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Today, I am proud to be able to say that the eras of land wars in the region, wars that involved huge numbers of American forces, is not under way,” he said.

US President Joe Biden takes notes as he attends the Jeddah Security and Development Summit
US President Joe Biden takes notes as he attends the Jeddah Security and Development Summit (GCC+3) at a hotel in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah on July 16, 2022 [Mandel Ngan/AFP]

Biden also pressed his counterparts, many of which lead repressive governments, to ensure human rights, including women’s rights, and allow their citizens to speak openly.

“The future will be won by the countries that unleash the full potential of their populations,” he said, including allowing people to “question and criticize leaders without fear of reprisal.”

The US president spent Saturday morning meeting individually with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and the UAE, some of whom he had never sat down with.

Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent Kimberly Halkett said in terms of political win, Biden is going back home “empty handed”.

“He needed to push the Saudis to pump more oil to bring down energy proces in the United States – that goal has not been accomplished,” Halkett said, speaking from Doha.

However, Biden believes that there are other goals of value that will take time to reap the benefits, she continued.

“He believes that there will be improved cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbours in the future,” Halkett said. “There will be increased economic productivity and increased economic cooperation, but these are not things that are going to be visible in the near future.”

For Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara, Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia is more significant than his stop in Israel.

“The alliance with Israel is strong, [so] I think what’s new is what’s happening with Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Bishara also said Biden has three D’s in his strategy.

“It’s important to once again underline the things the US president mentioned: America is going to continue with diplomacy. It is also going to do so with deterrence, [preventing] Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And de-escalation. He once again commended the idea that there is a ceasefire in Yemen,” Bishara added.

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