Analysts had told Doha News that a partnership would likely be announced during the meeting.
Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has landed in Saudi Arabia for the GCC+3 summit that will see regional leaders and officials meet with US President Joe Biden during his tour of the region.
The Qatari leader is scheduled to meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly known as MbS.
The summit gathers leaders from the Gulf bloc and three other Arab nations – Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
The UAE’s President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Egypt’s President Abdelfattah El-Sisi, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and Oman’s Deputy Prime Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Affairs and Personal Representative of the Sultan Sayyid Asa’ad bin Tariq Al Said are also in Jeddah for the summit.
First post-blockade visit
The US president’s visit to the region comes two years after Biden took the reins in the White House – a stark contrast to his predecessor who made the same trip to Riyadh just four months after his inauguration.
In 2020, the GCC was still locked in the region’s worst political crisis in decades.
When Biden was inaugurated at Capitol hill, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt were locked in a diplomatic feud with Qatar that saw the quartet impose an illegal land, air and sea blockade of the latter.
Since January 2021, tensions have diffused and diplomatic relations restored.
Speaking to the press in Jeddah on Friday, Biden said the leaders will be discussing the GCC’s investment in the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment. Biden had raised the $200 initiative during a G7 Summit last month in an effort “to meet the enormous infrastructure needs of low- and middle-income countries”.
Moves to connect Iraq’s electric grid to the GCC will also be announced, the president said, noting this is part of efforts to reduce Baghdad’s dependence on Iran.
“After years of failed efforts, we have now finalised an agreement to connect Iraq’s electric grid to the GCC grids through Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, deepening Iraq’s integration into the region and reducing its dependence on Iran,” said Biden.
Iraq heavily relies on Iran for gas and electricity imports due to a lack in essential facilities to process gas into fuel. Last year, Iran was unable to provide Iraq with the gas quantities the two sides agreed on, contributing to its energy crisis.
Middle East – US engagement
A top priority for President Biden during his first official regional tour has been the expansion of Washington’s engagement with the Middle East.
“This trip is about once again positioning America in this region for the future. We are not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China to fill. And we’re getting results,” said Biden.
Before Biden headed to the region, talks over an alleged Middle East alliance, also dubbed the ‘Arab NATO’, dominated headlines. The rumoured alliance comprised the GCC+3 and Israel, despite some countries in the bloc refusing to normalise with the Zionist state.
Under the reported bloc, Israel, the only nuclear power in the region, would help the other members deter perceived threats by Iran—which has been accused by Tel Aviv of developing a nuclear weapon.
However, it was downplayed by officials of the GCC+3.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi denied the presence of talks over an alliance involving Israel, noting that the matter is not on Biden’s agenda. The Hashemite Kingdom was the second in the Arab world to establish ties with Israel in 1994, after Egypt in 1979.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported on Friday that the UAE has appeared to dismiss speculations of a Middle East alliance designed to confront Iran, saying the Gulf state is working on sending an envoy to Tehran instead.
Anwar Gargash said the UAE would not take part in an “axis” against Tehran, referencing recent reports an alleged military alliance to confront Iran in the Middle East.
Despite Doha not commenting on the alleged alliance, the Gulf state has highlighted through numerous occasions its staunch refusal and opposition to normalisation with Israel.
Qatar also has strengthened its ties with Iran over the past years, particularly with the Gulf state hosting talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear accord, technically known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The concept of an alliance in the Middle East has existed for years though it has never materialised.
“This NATO proposal overall is not a new concept brought up by the US, it has been something that was pursued but turned out to be an elusive quest,” Dr. Dania Thafer, Executive Director of Gulf International Forum, told Doha News last week.
Trump had promoted a Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2017, shortly before the GCC crisis. The alliance was also seen as an attempt to counter perceived threats to the region by Iran and its proxies.
MESA was deemed to be yet another part of Trump’s anti-Iran rhetoric, which was further highlighted when he unilaterally withdrew Washington from the JCPOA in 2018.
“The [Biden] administration is very desperate to announce something at the summit in Jeddah.
“So anything that the Biden administration will come up with and announce will have to be watered down to include a common denominator with all these different countries,” Dr. Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London, told Doha News.