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US President Joe Biden pointed to developments in the Middle East that he contended had made the region more stable and secure than when the Trump administration ended. Image Credit: AFP

WASHINGTON:  President Joe Biden, preparing for a trip to Saudi Arabia, has said that he had been seeking to “reorient but not rupture’’ relations with a longstanding strategic partner.

In the article posted online Saturday night by The Washington Post, Biden pointed to developments in the Middle East that he contended had made the region more stable and secure than when the Trump administration ended.

Biden will hold bilateral talks with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and his leadership team, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, on his visit to the Middle East July 13-16 visit.

Biden said his aim was to reorient and not rupture relations with a country that has been a US strategic partner for 80 years.

Biden needs Saudi Arabia’s help at a time of high gasoline prices and as he encourages efforts to end the war in Yemen after the Saudis recently extended a ceasefire there.

The United States also wants to curb Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

Biden said that Saudi Arabia had recently helped to restore unity among the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, had fully supported the truce in Yemen and was working to stabilize oil markets with other Opec producers.

“As president, it is my job to keep our country strong and secure,” the US leader wrote.

“To do these things, we have to engage directly with countries that can impact those outcomes. Saudi Arabia is one of them, and when I meet with Saudi leaders on Friday, my aim will be to strengthen a strategic partnership going forward that’s based on mutual interests and responsibilities, while also holding true to fundamental American values.”

“A more secure and integrated Middle East benefits Americans in many ways. Its waterways are essential to global trade and the supply chains we rely on. Its energy resources are vital for mitigating the impact on global supplies of Russia’s war in Ukraine."

And a region that’s coming together through diplomacy and cooperation - rather than coming apart through conflict - is less likely to give rise to violent extremism that threatens our homeland or new wars that could place new burdens on US military forces and their families. Avoiding that scenario is of paramount importance to me. I’ll pursue diplomacy intensely - including through face-to-face meetings - to achieve our goals,” he wrote.

“The Middle East I’ll be visiting is more stable and secure than the one my administration inherited 18 months ago,” he wrote.

"Of course, the region remains full of challenges: Iran’s nuclear program and support for proxy groups, the Syrian civil war, food security crises exacerbated by Russia’s war against Ukraine, terrorist groups still operating in a number of countries, political gridlock in Iraq, Libya and Lebanon, and human rights standards that remain behind much of the world. We must address all these issues. When I meet with leaders from across the region, I will make clear how important it is to make progress in these areas.

"Still, compared to 18 months ago, the region is less pressurized and more integrated. Former rivals have reestablished relations. Joint infrastructure projects are forging new partnerships. Iraq, which had long been a source of proxy conflicts and regional rivalries, now serves as a platform for diplomacy, including between Saudi Arabia and Iran. My friend King Abdullah of Jordan recently referred to the “new vibe” in the region, with countries asking, “how can we connect with each other and work with each other,” he wrote.

Biden said he will be the first president to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, next week, which he said would be a small symbol of “budding relations and steps toward normalisation” between Israel and the Arab world.

“I will be the first president to visit the Middle East since 9/11 without US troops engaged in a combat mission there. It’s my aim to keep it that way.” Biden said.

The president will first stop in Israel on his trip.

Provocative says Iran

Meanwhile, Iran has described as a “threat” the United States’ plans for enhancing air defence cooperation with its Middle East allies, due to be discussed during Biden’s trip.

The White House’s National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Thursday said “greater collaboration” on issues such as air defence, particularly with regards to countering Tehran, would be on Biden’s agenda as he visits Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“The proposal of this issue is provocative and the Islamic republic of Iran views these remarks as a threat to national and regional security,” foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said late Saturday.

“Trying to create new security concerns in the region will have no result other than weakening common regional security and serving the security interests of the Zionist regime,” he continued, in reference to Israel.

Biden is due to begin on Wednesday his first visit to the Middle East since taking office in January 2021. He is set to meet the leaders of Iran’s arch-nemesis Israel and its regional rival Saudi Arabia, as well as those of other countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

The US and its Gulf Arab allies accuse Iran of destabilising the region with its ballistic missile programme and support for armed militias.

“We’re continuing to work on integrated air defence capabilities and frameworks across the region,” Kirby said on Thursday.

“The whole region is concerned about Iran and their burgeoning and growing ballistic missile capabilities,” he added.

Washington raises such issues “with the sole purpose of Iranophobia and creating discord between the countries of the region”, Kanani said.

“Any groundwork for increasing the presence and role of the US in regional security mechanisms will only lead to insecurity, instability and the spread of terrorism,” he added.

His remarks came amid heightened tensions between Iran and Western powers as talks in Vienna to revive a 2015 nuclear deal have been stalled since March.

Qatar hosted in late June indirect talks between the US and Iran in Doha in a bid to get the Vienna process back on track, but those discussions broke up after two days without any breakthrough.