Iran, energy crisis reasons for Biden's visit to Riyadh

TEHRAN, Jun. 25 (MNA) –Bilgehan Alagoz says the global energy crisis and ambiguity surrounding the Iran nuclear talks are key factors for Biden's upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh-Washington relations soured after Biden entered the White House in January 2021, after he vowed to turn Saudi Arabia into a marginalized and isolated country during his campaign. Relations between the two countries have soured since issues such as human rights, Jamal Khashoggi's assassination and the Yemeni war were raised.

While Biden focused on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia at the beginning of his presidency, US political analysts now expect the situation to change and other issues to be addressed by the president.

Now analysts say Washington's view of Riyadh has changed, and the US president is seeking to strengthen ties with Saudis to achieve a number of specific goals during his upcoming visit to Riyadh.

While the American media focuses on human rights issues and sees Biden's trip as contrary to his election promises, the media and analysts in the Arab world are paying attention to the goals of the US President during the visit. 

To shed more light on the significance of the deal, we reached out to Dr. Bilgehan Alagoz, Director of Foreign Policy Program Center for Iranian Studies-Ankara (IRAM).

While the White House says its view has not changed about Saudi's human rights records, many believe that upcoming president Bident's visit to the country means Biden's retreatment. What do you think of this?

Joe Biden established a definite verbal attitude against Saudi Arabia before he was elected US president. For two key reasons, Biden used the language that he would treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah. One of them was that he accused Saudi Arabia of killing Jamal Khashoggi, and the other was that energy plans from the Trump administration were changed to reflect a totally different viewpoint. In accordance with the Green New Deal, the USA would put an end to the era of fossil fuels and concentrate on renewable energy, making the [Persian] Gulf nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, less significant for the USA. Progressives within the Democratic Party were particularly supportive of this policy, which formed as a philosophical stance. However, the USA can no longer sustain this approach given the current circumstances.

Do you think that Biden’s previous stance towards the Saudi Kingdom has been just a tactic to get more milk from the Saudi cow?

The way Biden previously treated Saudi Arabia, in my opinion, was not done so strategically to gain more. If the conditions were the same as they were when he was elected president, he would continue to act in this manner. I think the tremendous shifts in global politics are wholly accountable for the United States' current shift toward Saudi Arabia. The United States' Saudi policy has changed as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the development of Iran's nuclear program.

If you agree that the Biden administration has been forced to revise its earlier stance toward the kingdom, so what reasons have forced Biden to do so? 

With Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a worldwide energy crisis developed. The spike in gas prices in the USA is a glaring example of this. The Republicans sharply criticize this situation in a nation that will hold congressional midterm elections in November 2022. Therefore, the primary reason for Biden's trip to Saudi Arabia is the pressing need to persuade Saudi Arabia to increase oil output and simultaneously mend their tense relationship.

Another motivation for this trip is the fact that the nuclear talks in Vienna did not terminate, necessitating greater [Persian] Gulf involvement in matters involving Iran, particularly those pertaining to Israel's security. Because of this, Saudi Arabia has once again emerged as a crucial nation for the US.

Do you see any relation between Biden’s regional trip and the possible failure of JCPOA talks?

The ambiguity surrounding the nuclear discussions, in my opinion, is a key factor in Biden's travel to Saudi Arabia. Because the USA is focused on the notion that Iran's nuclear activities pose a threat to Israel's security. In this context, a law that was put on the US agenda is crucial. On June 9, Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen and Republican Senator Joni Ernst stated that they were creating a bipartisan bill to forward the 2020 Abraham Accords. In order to develop an integrated air and missile defense system between the US, Israel, and Arab countries against Iran, DEFEND (Deterring Enemy Forces and Enabling National Defenses ) Act has been announced. It is likely that Biden would try to persuade Saudi Arabia to join the joint air defense system that will be established by this law.

Will Biden’s visit to the region and the kingdom affect Tel Aviv and Riyadh’s possible normalization?   

Saudi Arabia's participation in the Abraham Accords is something the US is quite eager to do. However, Saudi Arabia takes a careful approach to this issue. Saudi Arabia and Iran are competing for leadership of the Islamic world. In this sense, Saudi Arabia wants to increase its influence over Iran-dominant Arab countries like Syria and Iraq. Arab and Islamic identity depends heavily on anti-Israel feeling; hence Saudis don't want that emotion to shift against them. Because of this, I believe Saudi Arabia will continue to be wary of Israel.

In the past, Saudi Arabia provided the US and western countries with energy and instead bought its security. But in recent years Riyadh has witnessed the US limits and disability to guarantee the kingdom’s security, for example, see the failure of the Americans in Iraq, and Afghanistan or not being able to protect the country and its Aramco against Yemeni attacks. Considering these facts how do you see the future of the US and Saudi relations?

Saudi Arabia is making numerous changes to its foreign policy. As a result of the USA's distancing itself from itself, relations with China and Russia, two other powers, are strengthening constantly. Saudi Arabia is likewise evaluating its ties to the nearby countries. The Qatari crisis was settled in the Al-Ula Agreement. Revisions are being made to the connections with Turkey. Last but not least, it's crucial to continue the talks with Iran. Saudi Arabia has not been able to conduct policy entirely under the direction of the USA, as it formerly was, as evidenced by the fact that these two bitter rivals are currently in talks to resolve the Yemeni crisis. In my opinion, Saudi Arabia will continue to pursue its current approach in the years to come, even though it occasionally runs against American interests.

Interview by Payman Yazdani

News Code 188352


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