Given the war in Ukraine, the exacerbation of global competition with China, and political and economic challenges in his own country, President Joe Biden’s first Middle East tour seeks to revitalize the role of American leadership in bringing partners and allies together around a common agenda. The region is showing a new dynamism on the diplomatic front.
The destinations that were selected and the statements that emerged show that Biden primarily intends to revitalize the image and role of the United States as a constructive leader, able to bring together partners and allies around a common agenda that consolidates its regional position based on the global dispute with China and Russia. This is a marked departure from the unilateralism and belligerence that characterized the Trump administration, which cost a great deal of U.S. political capital. Biden said this himself in an July 9 opinion published in The Washington Post. The pragmatism that Biden expressed shows that his goal is to refrain from antagonizing his allies on sensitive subjects such as respect for human rights, even if this and other matters that color the rhetoric with which Washington presents itself to the world create tension.
Biden has designed an unambiguous agenda, marking change and continuity with respect to his predecessors. Biden is seeking to consolidate and extend the normalization of relations and cooperation between Israel and the Arab states, relying on the path opened by the 2020 Abraham Accords. Regional integration has its raison d’être in guaranteeing energy and food security and technological and military cooperation. On the flip side, Biden aims to maintain pressure on and isolation of Iran in an effort to end Iran’s development of nuclear capacities, all during a time of heightened tensions and belligerent rhetoric.
By signing of the Jerusalem Declaration with Israel’s interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the U.S. reinforced its commitment to Israeli security and its shared interest in preventing Tehran from developing the capacity to arm itself with nuclear weapons. The implication that the use of force has not been ruled out as an option coincides with military exercises that Israel carried out last June, which included a simulated operation against Iranian nuclear and defense facilities.
Israel finds itself in a government crisis after the dissolution of its cabinet, the product of tensions inherent from the beginning in a fragile coalition. Lapid will serve as acting prime minister until an election is held in November. The relationship that he manages to build with the U.S. president and the results that emerge from Saudi Arabia will offer him an opportunity to strengthen his own domestic leadership.
In late June and early July, the foreign ministers of Qatar and Iran met in a new effort to revive nuclear negotiations. Nevertheless — and despite having Europe’s, China’s and Russia’s interest — it has been hard for any optimism to overcome the intransigence, distrust and zero-sum logic that dominates in the Iran-U.S. relationship.
Julian Aguirre holds a degree in political science (UBA), is a member of the El Interprete Digital portal and a member of the Meridiano Foundation.