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[LISTEN] The Middle East Report: ‘Complicated Stops’ in Biden’s Middle East Visit

Jun 19, 2022

Umm Muhammed Umar

Award-winning scholar and journalist, James Dorsey, who is a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore, spoke to Radio Islam on the Middle East Report.

Dorsey said that US President Joe Biden travels next month to the Middle East on a trip fraught with political risk. Biden is to visit Israel, the West Bank, in Palestine, and Saudi Arabia, in July. Dorsey said that each of those stops were ‘complicated’. In Israel, there is the issue of a very fragile coalition that disintegrate at any moment, and potentially bring back to power former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, something the Biden administration would not like to see. Dorsey said, “Also in Israel is the issue of the killing of Al Jazeera journalist, Shereen Abu Akleh, and the Americans wanting Israel to conduct, or allow, an independent investigation to take place.” In Palestine there is the issue of having President Biden keep his promise to return relations with the Palestinians, and concerning a consulate in East Jerusalem. Regarding the Kingdom, Dorsey said, “And then of course, there are any number of issues with Saudi Arabia, starting with the personal relationship between Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, because of his alleged responsibility for the killing, in 2018, of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” He added, “there are multiple other issues, including security and what UAE and Saudi expectations are, versus what the United States is willing to commit to – there’s the issue of oil prices and oil production. And of course, there are multiple other issues including human rights.”

With respect to China’s role in the Middle East, Dorsey said, “the underlying tone of much of what you hear and read about the Chinese relationship in the Middle East, is that the United States is encountering all these problems. China’s doing great, its economy is moving forward. And they’re not getting entangled in all of these issues.” He added, however, that this could change because of the Russia-Ukraine war, which could have consequences for Gulf countries regarding technological issues. It could also change because, currently, it appears that the Iran nuclear deal would not be revived. He said, “That means much greater tensions between states like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, and the Iranians, (and) a potential escalation of conflict.”

Meanwhile, one of the subjects on the table for between Biden and Saudi Arabia’s rulers, would be Saudi recognition of Israel. Dorsey said that, “The Saudis have basically made clear that that’s what they want to do, but they are looking for a ‘fig leaf’. That fig leaf would be either some progress on resolution of the Palestinian issue, or a major Asian Muslim majority state going first.” He explained, “The Saudis are already increasing security cooperation with Israel, and the expectation is that the Biden visit will not lead to an immediate Saudi recognition of Israel.” Recently, a delegation made up of Pakistani Americans, and also a very prominent Pakistani, and Pakistan based, journalist, Ahmed Qureshi had visited Israel. Qureshi had recently been fired from his job at state run Pakistan television. Dorsey said, “Despite the social media backlash, those people who visited Israel have not been penalized, and it has sparked a debate in Pakistan on whether or not the country should recognize Israel. Pakistan wants American support and IMF backing, that it badly needs for its economy, as well as cooperation on water stress technologies.”

Separately, Turkey has blocked talks around Swedish and Finnish membership to NATO. The coming week will see the NATO Summit being held, where 29 0f the 30 NATO states would, according to Dorsey, have liked to have welcomed Sweden and Finland into NATO membership, in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war. Turkey is holding up the approval of the membership application, which has to be unanimous. This was because of objections it has to Swedish and Finnish policies towards the Kurds, as well as an embargo that Sweden and Finland imposed on Turkey because of its incursion in 2019 into Syria. Dorsey said, “all of this puts, of course, the Kurdish issue, which is the next big Middle East powder keg, higher up on the agenda. It also puts the fact that the Turks are about to, again, launch a military operation in northern Syria, into perspective.” He highlighted that while Turkey would not fundamentally change Swedish and Finnish policies, nor resolve the Kurdish issue, it was, by means of its approach, quickly using up its goodwill.

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