The President of the United States of America (USA), Joe Biden has expressed worry over what he called “influence of China, Russia and, crucially, Iran” vowing to reduce such influence.
He expressed the desire to engage with the Middle East to push back against the influence of China, Russia and, crucially, Iran.
The US President, who spoke today, July 16 as his Middle East tour drew to a close.
Biden singled out Iran as the target of his criticism, even as he offered regional support against Tehran in its dealings with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, international shipping and nuclear negotiators.
“Let me say clearly, that the United States is going to remain an active engaged partner in the Middle East,” Biden said at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran,” Biden stressed. “The United States is invested in building a positive future in the region, in partnership with all of you, and the United States is not going anywhere.”
The GCC is the most important political and economic alliance in the region. Its members are the Gulf states of Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, which has a dominant position in the group.
The Council met today in an expanded format (GCC+3), with Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi and Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, whom Biden both met privately. Jordan’s King Abdullah II also attended.
Biden has since returned to Washington today after also visiting Israel and the West Bank which is his first Middle East trip as president.
Biden wants the US to better protect international shipping in the Middle East, in a clear reference to Shiite Iran, which Sunni Saudi Arabia, among others, sees as a major threat.
“The United States will not allow foreign or regional powers to jeopardize freedom of navigation through the Middle East,” he said.
The free movement of goods, including through the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the Strait of Hormuz off Iran are a “lifeblood,” he added.
He reaffirmed the US will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon and gave his backing to al-Kadhimi. Iran heavily influences policy in Iraq, as it does in war-torn Yemen and Syria.
But Iran was not his only target at the GCC meeting.
He stressed the importance of open societies and freedom of expression to the assembled Arab leaders.
Biden held talks with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah on Friday after geopolitical developments necessitated a renewal of the two countries’ long ties despite the president’s previous criticism of the regime.
Saudi Arabia warned the US not to interfere in the dispute regarding the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives in 2018.
“Imposing values by force generates counterproductive results,” the Saudi-funded al-Arabiya news channel quoted a top official as saying.
The crown prince, accused by some of ordering the hit, assured Biden he had “taken the necessary measures on the Khashoggi incident” after it was raised by the president.
The Saudis should meanwhile be supported in defending “its people and territory against external threats,” a joint statement read.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have repeatedly attacked targets in Saudi Arabia, including key oil facilities.
An attack in 2019 temporarily crippled about half of Saudi oil production – around 5% of global oil production.
A senior US official said it was taken as a “very positive sign” that the Saudis want to extend a current ceasefire in Yemen, where they have been leading an alliance against the rebels since 2015.
The US also wants to boost food security in the Middle East and North Africa with about $1 billion of aid.
GCC leaders are also pledging $3 billion during the next two years for projects related to a global infrastructure initiative.
At its summit in Germany in June, the group of seven (G7) leading democratic industrialized countries launched a “Partnership for Global Infrastructure.” The GCC states now also want to contribute.
The project is seen as an alternative to the “New Silk Road” project launched by China in 2013, with which the country is opening up new trade routes to Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia.
The UN fears a hunger crisis against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a crucial wheat exporter.