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Biden Mideast Trip Fraught With Political Perils

Follow the latest news on Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

JERUSALEM – President Biden travels to Israel on Wednesday for a four-day trip to the Middle East in an effort to slow Iran’s nuclear program, speed up the flow of oil to American pumps, and remake the relationship with Saudi Arabia without appearing to embrace. Crown Prince accused of gross violations of human rights.

All three efforts are fraught with political peril for a president who knows the region well, but returns for the first time in six years with far less influence than he would like to shape events.

His 18-month negotiations to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have stalled, thwarting diplomatic efforts to force Tehran to ship most of the nuclear fuel it enriches outside the country to levels close to bomb-production.

And while an outright deal about increasing Saudi oil production is not expected to be announced — out of concern that it might appear improper, and as a reward for facilitating the crown prince’s return to the diplomatic fold — it will likely come within a month or two. Officials say.

Administration officials know they will come under fire from within their own party when the inevitable photos of the president meeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman emerge, less than two years after Mr. Biden promised to do so. Making Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the international stage. The promise was motivated by the 2018 murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist, in a complex plot that the CIA says Prince Mohammed directly approved.

Biden has long portrayed this era in history as a struggle between democracy and absolutism, recently barring Cuba and Venezuela from entering. Americas Summit in Los Angeles for their repressive practices. But he justified the visit to Saudi Arabia as an exercise in realism.

Biden wrote: “My goal was to reorient the relationship — but not sever it.” opinion article In the Washington Post last weekend. “Saudi energy resources are vital to mitigating the impact on global supplies of the Russian war in Ukraine,” he said, in his only acknowledgment of the fact that Prince Mohammed’s strategy — wait until the United States needs Saudi Arabia again — has been paying off.

There is also an element of superpowers in flight.

Mr. Biden made clear when he took office that he wanted to reduce the US focus on the Middle East, and focus on China – a reflection of his belief that Washington wasted 20 years when it should have focused on the reality of a peer competitor.

But the trip is also partly about stopping China’s conquest of the region. Last week, Riyadh and Washington quietly signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on building a next-generation 5G cellular network in Saudi Arabia. This is designed to take out Huawei, China’s 5G champion.

The politics of war in Ukraine will also be in the background.

Biden aides made it clear that they were upset in the spring when the Israeli government insisted on making a decision largely neutral position Regarding the war, they assert that this is the only way for its prime minister, Naftali Bennett, to keep an open line with President Vladimir Putin.

On Monday, as Mr Biden prepared to leave, his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, revealed for the first time that intelligence agencies had concluded that Iran – Israel’s primary opponent – was Plans to help Russia in its fight against Ukraine. He said Iran is preparing to supply Russia with hundreds of drones, some of which are capable of carrying out attacks.

“Our information indicates that the Iranian government is preparing to supply Russia with up to several hundred drones, including those with weapons capability, on a rapid schedule,” Sullivan said. Notes Monday afternoon.

He said: “Our information also indicates that Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use these drones, with initial training courses scheduled to begin as soon as early July.”

Mr Sullivan cautioned that it was “unclear whether or not Iran has actually delivered any of these drones to Russia,” but said “this is just one example of how Russia is looking to countries like Iran for capabilities that are used.” Also” in the attacks on Saudi Arabia. The Arabian Peninsula.

Mr. Sullivan’s primary motivation in revealing the Iranian operation was to warn Tehran and Moscow that the United States is watching. But with Mr. Biden’s visit expected to open with new Israeli capabilities to use laser weapons against drones and missiles, it also appears intended to send a message to the Israeli government about supporting Ukraine more forcefully.

It also gives Mr. Biden and the interim prime minister who will serve as his host, Yair Lapid, a common point of agreement on how to confront Iran, amid continuing behind-the-scenes wrangling over how to deal with a critical juncture in the Iranian nuclear file. a program.

Israel vehemently objected to the 2015 nuclear agreement, and the prime minister at the time, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke to Congress about the need to block it. (Many of his intelligence and military leaders opposed, and later said they believed the agreement, which forced Iran to ship 97 percent of its fuel stockpile out of the country, had been bought for years.)

When President Donald J Trump Withdrew from the agreement In 2018, it brought about a new breakthrough in Iran’s nuclear program. It has now produced a large amount of uranium of near bomb-grade purity – something it had not done before the 2015 agreement – and Israel has stepped up its campaign of sabotage, to blow up Iranian facilities. In response, Iran is speeding up the development of new underground facilities.

Officially, Israel opposes renewing the agreement – although it appears to be a contentious topic.

Talks have been stalled for months, with Mr. Biden rejecting Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the list of terrorist organizations in Washington. Robert Malley, the chief American negotiator, whom the Iranians refused to meet face to face, Tell NPR Recently “whether they are interested or not, they will have to make a decision sooner or later, because at some point the deal will be a thing of the past.”

It may already be beyond the point of resuscitation.

In early spring, Mr. Mali and Secretary of State Anthony J. Volume, will make the 2015 agreement obsolete.

Now, four months later, Biden aides have refused to explain how they let that deadline pass — and still insist that reviving the deal is more valuable than abandoning it.

Rafael Grossi, director of the global nuclear inspector, said earlier this month in Australia that he believed the Iranian program had now advanced to the point that others in the region might be inclined to emulate it. Saudi Arabia has said it reserves the right to build any nuclear infrastructure built by Iran.

“We are now in a situation where Iran’s neighbors could start to fear the worst and plan accordingly,” said Mr. Grossi. “There are countries in the region today that are looking very carefully at what is happening with Iran, and tensions in the region are escalating.” He added that political leaders have sometimes said “they would actively seek to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran were to pose a nuclear threat.”

For public consumption, the White House has argued that Mr. Biden’s decision to go to Saudi Arabia was motivated by a whole host of national security issues, not just oil. But oil is actually the most compelling reason for the trip at a time of high gas prices.

Sensitive to the appearance of sacrificing a principled stance on human rights for cheaper energy, the president is not planning to announce any oil deal during his stop in Jeddah. But both sides understand that Saudi Arabia will ramp up production once the current quota agreement expires in September, just in time for the fall’s midterm campaign, according to current and former US officials.

Martin Indyk, a former Middle East diplomat to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said exact quantities are still uncertain, but Saudi Arabia is expected to increase production by about 750,000 barrels per day, and the UAE will follow suit par excellence. An additional 500,000 barrels per day, for a total of 1.25 million barrels. It’s unclear to what extent this could lower prices at the pump in the US, and it may not be fast enough or deep enough to change the mood ahead of November.

“That would be the kind of deal that would justify the trip, but since they won’t announce it, it leaves the president in a position where he has to justify it in other terms, and thus focus on normalization and defense integration,” Mr. Indyk said. He must embrace it.”

Instead, Mr. Biden has attempted to demonstrate that he is not visiting Saudi Arabia so much as meeting multiple leaders from the region in the form of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of six countries led by Saudi Arabia, as well as leaders of three other Arab states, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

But White House officials are resigned to the fact that Mr. Biden will not be able to completely avoid Prince Mohammed, and there will be that harmful image – which is harmful, at least, to Mr. Biden. For the crown prince, the image will be invaluable as he seeks to rehabilitate his international image.

Some analysts said that alone might be enough for the Saudis.

“I think the odds of the Saudis trying to embarrass the president on this trip are relatively low, because I think it’s going to hurt specifically the kinds of strategic things they’re trying to do,” said Jon B. Alterman, senior vice president. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “So I think their incentives to cooperate are high.”

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