HomeMiddle EastThe United States sees big gains if the Middle East megadeal is...

The United States sees big gains if the Middle East megadeal is closed, but at what price?

WASHINGTON, Sept 19 (Reuters) – The Biden administration is pressing ahead with a concerted effort to achieve a “grand bargain” in the Middle East that includes normalization of relationships between Israel and Saudi Arabia, calculating that the United States could reap great rewards if it can overcome difficult obstacles.

President Joe Biden’s aides have done this diplomatic push a foreign policy priority despite varying degrees of skepticism from experts about whether the timing, conditions and current regional leadership are right for a megadeal that could reshape Middle East geopolitics.

This marks a dramatic shift for a president who had spent much of his term avoiding deeper diplomatic involvement in the region’s issues, raising questions about why he has engaged in such a challenging goalwhat you stand to gain and whether you might end up paying too high a price.

An attempt to mediate the relationships between Longtime enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia It is the centerpiece of complex negotiations involving discussions over U.S. security guarantees and civil nuclear aid requested by both Riyadh and Israel. concessions to the Palestiniansaccording to people familiar with the matter.

While U.S. officials insist any breakthrough is far away, they privately tout the potential benefits, including eliminating a potential flashpoint in the Arab-Israeli conflict, strengthening the regional bulwark against Iran and fighting Iran. China’s advances in the Gulf. Biden would also score a foreign policy victory as he seeks re-election in November 2024.

“There are a lot of things that could go wrong, but if they do, they could be a crowning achievement in foreign policy,” said Jonathan Panikoff, the U.S. government’s former deputy national intelligence officer for the Middle East, now at the Atlantic Council.

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY?

Although the timeline remains uncertain, Biden’s advisers believe there may be a critical window to reach a deal before the presidential campaign consumes its agenda, sources say.

But U.S. officials acknowledge there are so many obstacles that there is no guarantee of success. Negotiations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been carried out with Biden’s emissaries as intermediaries.

“We are actively talking,” a US official said on condition of anonymity. “But there isn’t even a set of principles for what an agreement would look like right now.”

Still, Biden’s aides have begun briefing key lawmakers, people familiar with the discussions say. The focus is on Biden’s fellow Democrats who have condemned Saudi Arabia over human rights but whose support would be needed if any deal requires congressional approval.

The confluence of elements that drive management includes a sense of urgency about China’s effort to gain a strategic foothold in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states and the United States’ desire to heal ties with Riyadh, whom Biden once promised to turn into a “pariah.”

Bringing together military powers Israel and Saudi Arabia could help formalize cooperation against Iran, a mutual enemy that Washington wants to contain.

The administration is also seeking to reassert regional leadership to prevent Saudi Arabia and other Gulf oil states from drifting further away from efforts to isolate energy-producing Russia over the war in Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter.

In addition, normalization would attract pro-Israel voters in the elections and make it more difficult for Republicans to attack him over strained relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Although foreign policy rarely influences American elections, Biden, who faces a re-election fight against former Republican President Donald Trump, may be thinking about his legacy.

“It would be a big deal, but the question is how much Biden is willing to pay for it,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

SAUDI DEMANDS

Among the challenges would be satisfying Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler known as MbS.

He is reported to be seeking a NATO-style treaty that would force the United States to defend the kingdom if attacked, and also wants advanced weapons and assistance for a civilian nuclear program.

The Saudis are demanding significant concessions from the Israelis to the Palestinians to keep prospects for statehood alive, something Biden is also pushing for but which Netanyahu’s far-right government has shown little willingness to grant.

A Improving relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia He would face resistance in Congress, where many criticize MbS for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Riyadh’s intervention in Yemen.

“I’m certainly very wary of a defense treaty that forces the United States to come to the defense of a Saudi government that has proven to act incredibly irresponsibly in the region,” Senator Chris Murphy told Reuters.

Murphy, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he favors normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia and is open to reviewing any broader agreement, but won’t be easily swayed.

However, Jared Kushner, who under Trump spearheaded three Arab-Israeli agreements known as the Abraham Accords, has urged his father-in-law to consider supporting Biden’s effort as vindication of Trump’s record in the Middle East, according to a person familiar with the proceedings. discussions.

For Netanyahu, diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, custodian of Islam’s two holiest shrines, would be a long-sought prize that could encourage other Muslim states to follow suit and also pave the way for expanding Israel’s economic integration into the Middle East in general.

But Netanyahu’s coalition would likely resist anything more than modest gestures toward the Palestinians, which could trip up any normalization deal.

Biden’s talks with Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday could provide an indication of how far he is willing to go.

Like MbS, Netanyahu has done little to dispel the impression that he would prefer to deal with a second Trump presidency, raising the possibility that they may wait for the election result.

If time runs out, the administration might have to settle for a more limited deal or try to reach agreement on the broad outlines of a future deal, experts say.

The idea would then be to iron out the details later if Biden wins a second term.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington and Dan Williams in Jerusalem Editing by Nick Zieminski

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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