President Joe Biden, speaking at a summit of Arab leaders, said Saturday that the United States will not walk away from the Middle East as he tries to ensure stability in a volatile corner of the globe and boost the worldwide flow of oil to reverse rising gas prices.
His remarks, delivered at the Gulf Cooperation Council as he closes out the final leg of a four-day trip, comes as the region braces for a potential confrontation with Iran.
We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran, Biden said. We will seek to build on this moment with active, principled, American leadership.
Although U.S. forces continue to target terrorists in the region and remain deployed at bases throughout the Middle East, Biden suggested that he was turning the page after the country’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, I’m proud to be able to say that the eras of land wars in the region, wars that involved huge numbers of American forces, is not under way, he said.
Biden also pressed his counterparts, many of which lead repressive governments, to ensure human rights, including women’s rights, and allow their citizens to speak openly.
The future will be won by the countries that unleash the full potential of their populations, he said, including allowing people to question and criticize leaders without fear of reprisal.
Before the speech, Biden spent the morning meeting individually with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, some of whom he had never sat down with.
Biden invited Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who became president of the UAE two months ago, to visit the White House this year, saying he looked forward to another period of strong and growing cooperation between their countries under the sheik’s leadership.
The Gulf Cooperation Council summit in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah is an opportunity for Biden to demonstrate his commitment to the region after spending most of his presidency focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s growing influence in Asia.
Hours before the conference began, the White House released satellite imagery that indicates Russian officials have twice recently visited Iran to see weapons-capable drones it is looking to acquire for use in its war in Ukraine.
None of the countries represented at the summit have moved in lockstep with the U.S. to sanction Russia, a key foreign policy priority for the Biden administration. If anything, the UAE has emerged as a sort of financial haven for Russian billionaires and their multimillion-dollar yachts. Egypt remains open to Russian tourists.
Release satellite imagery that shows Russian officials visited Kashan Airfield on June 8 and July 15 to look at the drones could help the administration better tie the war’s relevance to many Arab nations’ own concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, missile program and support for militants in the region.
A senior Biden administration official, who briefed reporters before the summit, said Moscow’s efforts to acquire drones from Tehran show that Russia is effectively making a bet on Iran.
Biden’s attendance at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit followed his Friday meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the oil-rich kingdom’s de facto ruler and heir to the throne currently held by his father, King Salman.
The president had initially shunned Prince Mohammed over human rights abuses, particularly the killing of U.S.-based writer Jamal Khashoggi, which U.S. intelligence officials believe was likely approved by the crown prince.
But Biden decided he needed to repair the longstanding relationship between the two countries to address rising gas prices and foster stability in the volatile region.