Biden and Saudi Arabia have a lot to lose if talks fail

The White House announced Tuesday that the President will visit Saudi Arabia for a meeting of regional leaders in Jeddah. Biden is expected to work with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), son of King Salman.

However, it has been a longer and more difficult road than many Saudi officials imagined.

Relations between the two countries date back decades and were cemented aboard the aircraft carrier USS Quincy. in 1945 at a meeting between US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, founder of the modern Saudi state and conqueror of the scattered tribes of the oil-rich desert kingdom.

Roosevelt wanted Saudi oil; Ibn Saud has a powerful global ally.

Billions of barrels of oil later, this fundamental balance of national interests remains, and it is the very real policy that, despite White House denials, strongly compelled Biden to turn the tide on Saudi Arabia.

These historical ties also drive the Saudis. In an op-ed for Saudi Arabia’s leading English-language newspaper Arab News, the kingdom’s longtime intelligence chief and diplomat Prince Turki al-Faisal wrote: hosted by the President of the United States.

Al-Faisal’s words clearly hint at the Saudis’ frustration with Biden, but are diplomatic enough to mask the frustration with gratitude. “I am pleased that Mr. Biden recognizes the importance of the relationship in containing Iran’s subversive behavior in general, the threat of terrorism, achieving peace in Yemen, joint military operations, and other considerations,” he added.

The rationale for Biden avoiding Saudi Arabia was its human rights record under its de facto ruler, MBS, who, according to US intelligence, authorized the attack on Khashoggi (MBS denies the allegation).

Khashoggi’s murder was a particularly embarrassing moment in US-Saudi relations, but there were others, including the ouster of the previous one. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayefa strong US ally in the war on terrorism, and jails political opponents and human rights activists.
So far, Biden is stressed avoided dealing with MBSpreferring to talk to his father, which for many Saudis seems like an obvious and unwanted snub. But when they meet in mid-July, things could change.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions against Moscow have left the world short of oil. Saudi Arabia, and MBS in particular, as a stable producer with spare capacity, can help fill the gap.
Biden could get the oil he wants and at the same time give the 36-year-old MBS presidential recognition he aspires to be the future long-term leader of the Gulf’s most powerful nation, which puts him on an ambitious path to becoming a major regional powerhouse.
Why the US may be forced to return to the Middle East

Since late last year, Saudi officials have struggled to swallow pent-up frustration with the Biden administration as it moved along the path of correcting Biden’s “outcast” comments.

The administration’s statement was especially offensive. major support gap against the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels who regularly fire Iranian-style cruise missiles into densely populated cities in Saudi Arabia; the US later withdrew its Patriot missile defense systems from the kingdom.
And if all that wasn’t irritating enough, after the COP26 UN climate change conference in Glasgow last year, they felt “baffled,” according to one Saudi official. On the one hand, the kingdom was asked reduce carbon emissions to save the planet and were soon asked to increase oil production as supplies had dwindled since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Relations by the end of last year were on the wane, even compared to historical tensions. Biden was a vice president in President Barack Obama’s administration during the nuclear talks with Iran that led to the 2015 nuclear deal known as the JCPOA.

In the Saudi capital Riyadh the following year, after the Democrats lost the U.S. presidential election, many residents told me they were in awe of Donald Trump’s leadership because he was so opposed to their main rival, Iran.

But Trump’s unpredictable outbursts over Iran — not least the assassination of their top general, Qasem Soleimani, as well as a host of other regional issues — have often baffled Saudi officials, leading them to hope for a more stable partner in the White House.

Relationships have gone through ups and downs. In 1991, a US-led coalition gathered more than half a million troops in the Saudi desert to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from Saudi Arabia’s neighboring Kuwait in 1991.

Ten years later, the relationship hit rock bottom when it was revealed that 15 of the 19 September 19 hijackers were Saudis. The Saudis watched in horror as the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia failed to intervene and support their former allies.

Oil exporters from the Middle East are cashing in as the war in Ukraine is hitting the global economy
Since then, Saudi Arabia has strengthened its national security, becoming one of the world’s major military spending.
Because the Biden administration treated them coldly, they turned to China for weapons. President Xi was expected to sign a major missile defense agreement in Saudi Arabia last month that would potentially fill the vacuum left by the US, although the trip has yet to take place.

Privately, Saudi officials say they have been hard at work engaging with world leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to help them get back on track with Biden.

Both Saudi Arabia and the US have something to lose if next month’s meeting falls through. The fact that they’re dating is a significant step forward, however the fragility of any concessions they both made to get this far is still unclear.

Digest

Israeli government suffers another blow as coalition member leaves

On Monday, Israel’s tottering government suffered another blow when one of its members announced that he was no longer a member of the coalition. Nir Orbach, a member of Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, said in an open letter that he told the prime minister on Monday morning that the government was “not fulfilling its mission.”

  • Background: Bennett became prime minister a year ago at the head of an emergency eight-party coalition spanning the political spectrum and backed by 61 lawmakers. One of them, Idit Silman, also from Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, resigned in April, leaving the government without a majority.
  • Why is it important: Orbach’s resignation leaves Bennett with the support of 59 lawmakers in the 120-seat parliament – a minority. This does not automatically bring down the government or hold new elections. For the dissolution of parliament and the return of voters to the polls, a majority of the votes of deputies is required. Orbach said in his letter that he would not vote this week to dissolve the legislature.

Oil production in Libya fell to 100,000 barrels per day due to the closure of the territories

Libya’s oil production is between 100,000 and 150,000 bpd, an oil ministry official said Tuesday, compared to more than 1.2 million bpd produced last year.

  • Background: The political stalemate between the warring parties in the country has led to repeated closures of manufacturing and export facilities, mostly by groups supporting Commander Khalifa Haftar and Prime Minister Fathi Bashaga in the east. The UN-backed prime minister in the west refused to hand over power to the Bashage.
  • Why is it important: Production cuts add pressure to markets already constrained by limited supply elsewhere. Oil prices have skyrocketed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and global oil supplies have shrunk due to Western sanctions on Russian oil exports. The Oil Ministry said Libya was losing $70 million to $80 million in export earnings daily as a result of the shutdowns.

Iran announces preparations for testing two satellite carrier rockets

Iran plans to send two satellite launch vehicles (SLVs) into space, a defense ministry official told state media on Wednesday. “Three Zoljanah SLV test launches are planned, one exploratory launch has been completed so far and two more are in development,” Seyyed Ahmad Hosseini told IRNA.

  • Background: The Ministry of Defense reports that the first rocket launch was successfully tested in February 2021. On Tuesday, the US company Maxar Technologies published satellite images showing possible preparations for a rocket launch at the Imam Khomeini Space Center. The site has been used for other launches in the past, many of which were unsuccessful.
  • Why is it important: Tensions were high due to Iran’s progress in its nuclear programas a deal with world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear capabilities remains stagnant. On Wednesday, the US said it was waiting for a “constructive” response from Iran to restart the deal.

By region

A British film about the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed has caused a backlash in the Islamic and Arab world and will not be shown in several UK cinemas due to security concerns.

The Heavenly Lady tells the story of Fatima alongside the fictional story of a child stuck in modern-day Iraq.

The film was also banned in Egypt, Pakistan and Iran, according to media reports. In Morocco, the Supreme Council of the Ulema (Scholars) called it “a blatant falsification of facts and contains a heinous act which cannot be accepted by Muslims.” news agency MAP. An online petition a call for the film to be removed from cinemas in the UK garnered over 130,000 signatures.

Films about the history of Islam have in the past caused conflict among some clerics due to conflicting historical narratives and depictions of holy figures, which many Muslims consider forbidden.

Filmmakers working on religious-themed projects often find innovative ways to get around these concerns.

While “The Lady of Heaven” includes holy characters such as Fatima and Prophet Muhammad, M. J. Salah, the film’s religious consultant, said in an interview posted on IMDB that “the holy personalities were not represented by any person … we were able to achieve this through a unique synthesis of actors, camera effects and lighting.”

Telling a religious story through film can be tricky. The Message, an Oscar-nominated film about the Prophet Muhammad released in 1976, did not portray the prophet but was banned in Saudi Arabia for 42 years before being shown there in 2018.

Mohammed Abdelbari

Photo of the day

A Syrian worker operates a kneading machine at a bakery in the city of Idlib on June 12.  Watchdogs have warned of potentially catastrophic consequences if wheat supplies to Syria are disrupted.  The war-torn country is heavily dependent on supplies from Russia.