Biden hopes for Israeli integration at Arab summit in Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 16 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will discuss regional missile and defense capabilities when he meets Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia on Saturday. A senior administration official said they shared concerns about Iran.

“We believe there is great value in adding as many capabilities as possible to the region, and of course Israel has significant air and missile defense capabilities,” he told reporters.

Biden, on his first Middle East trip as president, focused on planned summits with six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq while downplaying a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The meeting drew criticism for human rights abuses in the US.

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Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the world stage over the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, but ultimately U.S. interests dictated a realignment, not a rupture, of relations with the world’s top oil exporter and Arab nation. power station.

The US president said at the height of a meeting with the Saudi prince on Friday that he raised Khashoggi’s murder and that silence on the issue of human rights was “contrary to who we are and who I am”. read more

The crown prince told Biden that Saudi Arabia had taken steps to prevent mistakes like the Khashoggi killing from happening again, but that the United States had made similar mistakes, including in Iraq, a Saudi official said.

In a statement to Reuters about Friday’s conversation between the two leaders, the official said the kingdom’s de facto ruler might back down from trying to forcefully impose certain values ​​on other countries.

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Prince Mohammed also raised the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akley during an Israeli raid in the West Bank and noted at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Biden needs help from OPEC giant Saudi Arabia as he pushes for higher crude prices and other issues related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, as well as efforts to end the war in Yemen, where a temporary cease-fire is in place. Washington wants to limit Iran’s dominance in the region and China’s global influence.

The administration official said the U.S. hopes OPEC will increase production in the coming weeks. Biden is expected to pressure other Gulf producers to pump more oil. OPEC+, which includes Russia, meets on August 3.

The US president, who began his trip to the region with a trip to Israel, held bilateral talks with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates before attending a wider summit. US National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan announced Friday the strategy for US engagement in the Middle East.

“He’s intent on making sure there’s not a vacuum in the Middle East for China and Russia to fill,” Sullivan said.

The president expressed his appreciation for Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khatimi’s forward-thinking diplomacy for the benefit of a secure, stable region, according to a statement released after their meeting.

Another senior administration official said Biden would announce that the United States had committed $1 billion in new near- and long-term food security assistance to the Middle East and North Africa, and that Gulf states would commit $3 billion to rehabilitation programs over the next two years. With the US Partnership on Global Infrastructure and Investment.

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The Gulf states, which have refused to stand with the West against Russia in the Ukraine conflict, are seeking a firmer commitment to strategic ties from the United States.

Iran concerns

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have been frustrated by US conditions on arms sales, failure to address regional concerns about Tehran’s missile program and behavior, and exclusion from implicit US-Iran talks aimed at renewing the 2015 nuclear deal.

“The Saudi leadership and other Gulf leaders — and Arabs in general — want clarity on US policy and its direction toward the region,” said Abdul Aziz Sagar, president of the Riyadh-based Gulf Research Center.

Israel, which shares its concerns over Iran, encouraged Biden’s trip to the kingdom, hoping to foster a thaw between Saudi Arabia and Israel as part of a broader Arab rapprochement after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain forged ties in US-brokered deals with Israel. Blessings of Riyadh.

In a sign of progress under what Biden described as a groundbreaking process, Saudi Arabia said Friday it would open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more flights to and from Israel.

Washington and Riyadh announced the withdrawal of US and other peacekeepers from Taran — an island between Saudi Arabia and Egypt that leads to the Israeli port of Eilat. The troop standoff is part of agreements reached in 1978 that led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

A plan to link air defense systems could be a tough sell to Arab countries that have no ties to Israel and could be prevented from being part of a coalition against Iran, which has built a strong proxy network around the region, including Iraq. Lebanon and Yemen.

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A senior Emirati official, Anwar Gargash, said on Friday that the idea of ​​a Middle East NATO was tough and bilateral cooperation was fast and effective. read more

The UAE does not support a confrontational approach: “We are open to cooperation, but not cooperation targeting any other country in the region, I am specifically referring to Iran.”

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Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan in Jeddah and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Kaida Candes and Michael Giorgi; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Frances Kerry and Jane Merriman.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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