In a Washington Post op-ed published a week ahead of his visit, Biden wrote that he will “pursue diplomacy intensely” in a bid to avoid instability.
US President Joe Biden has taken off onboard Air Force One for his first trip to the Middle East since taking office.
With the US seeing a gradual withdrawal from the Middle East and wider region and following years of rocky Trump politics, Washington is now reevaluating its role in the region.
These are some of the major topics that Biden will be addressing during his visit.
Countries like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco made shockwaves after signing the Abraham Accords in 2020 to normalise relations with Israel under the former President Donald Trump adminstration.
However, President Biden will this week make history as the first sitting president of the United States to travel directly from Israel, his first stop, to Saudi Arabia. This itinerary is designed to reflect warmer relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours in general, despite opposition from Palestinian factions as well as opinions on the Arab street.
Although Riyadh has not announced plans to normalise to establish official diplomatic relations with Israel during Biden’s visit, more gradual steps are expected to be made, such as permitting Israeli commercial flights access to the kingdom’s airspace.
An Israeli-Arab “security alliance” is also rumoured to be in the works, though Arab nations have yet to formally and publicly announce such a move.
The US military’s Central Command, which coordinates activities in the area, has already seen an increase in security cooperation.
The White House’s national security spokesperson, John Kirby, stated that the new military alliance aims to develop a regional air defence system that could defend against Iranian drones and ballistic missiles.
Iran nuclear deal
Biden has pushed for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal since taking up his seat at the White House in a bid to reverse his predecessor Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the accord.
The deal, which has yet to resurrect, will likely be a top focus during his visit.
Iran is seen by Israel as its largest threat, while some Arab nations consider Iran as a dangerous rival for regional dominance.
The deal between the EU, Iran and the US has struggled to hold up since Trump’s withdrawal and has seen Iran ramp up its uranium production. Despite the last round of talks in Doha, the US and Iran have not yet made a breakthrough in negotiations.
Both parties have accused the other of hampering results in the talks.
Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced that the US will be imposing further sanctions on Iran.
On Tuesday, Tehran slammed Washington’s “contradictory” policies, after Biden vowed to pile pressure on the Islamic Republic ahead of a visit to US allies in the Middle East.
Israel, which does not acknowledge having nuclear weapons but is commonly regarded as the sole nuclear-armed state in the region, has vocally objected to the accord and advocates for increasing sanctions to apply more pressure on Tehran to accept a more comprehensive deal.
As part of his efforts to convince Israelis that the United States is committed to their protection, Biden is anticipated to visit one of Israel’s missile defence stations.
Israeli occupation of Palestine
This marks Biden’s first trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories since taking up office.
The US president is facing increasing pressure to reign in Israel’s ever expanding network of settlements, which are seen as illegal under international law.
Biden is also under pressure from rights groups to weigh in on increasing Israeli violence against the native Palestinian population, which have continued despite global condemnation.
Meanwhile, the family of slain American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh have also demanded a meeting to discuss a recent controversial US investigation.
The probe said it was “likely” that the bullet which killed the journalist came from “Israeli positions” though it “found no reason to believe that this was intentional”, despite a UN probe and testimonies confirming Israel’s role in the murder.
During his trip, Biden intends to meet with the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in a bid to get him and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid to restart negotiations.
Saudi Arabia’s human rights
Biden has been heavily criticised for his planned meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – who has been accused of orchestrating the killing of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
Numerous activists, authors, moderate clerics, and economists continue to be detained because of their opposition to the crown prince, also known as MbS.
The handful who have been freed, like blogger Raif Badawi and supporter of women’s rights Loujain al-Hathloul, are subject to lengthy travel restrictions and are unable to talk freely.
Some prominent royal family members have also been detained or had their property seized, while others have been pushed into exile.
During his presidential campaign, Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah state” due to its rampant human rights abuses, however his stance has now appeared to change.
In an Op-ed published by the Washington Post last week, Biden said this was due to the need to establish a strategic partnership.
“As president, it is my job to keep our country strong and secure,” the US leader wrote on Saturday in the Washington Post.
“We have to counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to out-compete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world,” he continued.
“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.”
The US president is also expected to address Riyadh’s brutal and deadly years-long war in Yemen that was spearheaded by the crown prince in 2015.
The conflict has been described by the United Nations as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
In 2020, while the US oil industry was in trouble and the coronavirus epidemic significantly reduced travel, former US President Donald Trump pressed OPEC+ to reduce production.
The Saudis, one of the largest energy producers in the world, are already producing close to their 11 million barrels per day of daily oil production potential.
For Saudi Arabia, the de facto leader of OPEC+, higher oil prices are good for business.
In March and April, the kingdom announced that the value of its oil exports averaged $1 billion per day, a 123% rise over the corresponding time in 2021.
Meanwhile, analysts believe OPEC+ members, including Saudi Arabia, are likely to be wary of American demands.