Reviews | Joe Biden op-ed: What I hope to accomplish in Saudi Arabia and Israel
Avoiding this scenario is of paramount importance to me. I will pursue diplomacy intensively – including through face-to-face meetings – to achieve our goals.
The Middle East I will visit is more stable and secure than the one my administration inherited 18 months ago.
A month before my inauguration, our embassy in Baghdad faced the biggest rocket attack in a decade. Attacks on our troops and diplomats had quadrupled over the previous year. My predecessor repeatedly ordered B-52 bombers to fly from the United States to the area and back to deter these attacks. But that didn’t work and the attacks continued.
The war in Yemen was escalating, creating one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with no political process in sight to end the fighting.
After my predecessor reneged on a nuclear deal that worked, Iran passed a law requiring the rapid acceleration of its nuclear program. Then, when the last administration sought to condemn Iran for this action at the UN Security Council, the United States found itself isolated and alone.
During my first weeks as president, our intelligence and military experts warned that the region was dangerously under pressure. Urgent and intensive diplomacy was needed. To restore deterrence, I ordered airstrikes in response to attacks on our troops and began a serious diplomatic campaign to bring about a more stable region.
In Iraq, we ended the US combat mission and transferred our military presence to focus on training Iraqis, while supporting the global coalition against Islamic State that we forged when I was vice president, now dedicated to preventing the resurgence of the Islamic State. We also responded to threats against Americans. The frequency of Iranian-sponsored attacks compared to two years ago has dropped precipitously. And last February, in Syria, we eliminated ISIS leader Haji Abdullah, demonstrating America’s ability to eliminate terrorist threats no matter where they try to hide.
In Yemen, I appointed an envoy and engaged in talks with regional leaders, including the King of Saudi Arabia, to lay the groundwork for a truce. After a year of persistent diplomacy, that truce is now in place and vital humanitarian aid is reaching towns and villages that had been besieged. As a result, the past few months in Yemen have been the most peaceful for seven years.
On Iran, we have come together with allies and partners in Europe and around the world to break our isolation; now it is Iran that is isolated until it reverts to the nuclear deal that my predecessor abandoned with no plan for what might replace it. Last month, more than 30 countries joined us in condemning Iran’s lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency over its past nuclear activities. My administration will continue to increase diplomatic and economic pressure until Iran is ready to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, as I remain ready to do.
In Israel, we helped end a war in Gaza – which could easily have lasted for months – in just 11 days. We have worked with Israel, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan to keep the peace without allowing terrorists to rearm. We have also rebuilt American ties with the Palestinians. Working with Congress, my administration reinstated approximately $500 million in support for the Palestinians, while passing the largest support package for Israel – over $4 billion – in history. And this week, an Israeli prime minister spoke with the president of the Palestinian Authority for the first time in five years.
In Saudi Arabia, we reversed the blank check policy we inherited. I released the intelligence community report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, issued new sanctions, including against the Saudi Rapid Reaction Force implicated in his assassination, and issued 76 visa bans under a new rule barring entry into the United States to anyone found involved in the harassment of dissidents abroad. My administration has made it clear that the United States will not tolerate extraterritorial threats and harassment against dissidents and activists by any government. We also defended American citizens who had been wrongfully detained in Saudi Arabia long before I took office. They have since been released and I will continue to press for restrictions on their movement to be lifted.
From the outset, my objective was to redirect — but not to break — relations with a strategic partner country for 80 years. Today, Saudi Arabia helped restore unity among the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, fully supported the truce in Yemen and is now working with my experts to help stabilize oil markets with other OPEC producers.
I know many people disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia. My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad, as they will be on this trip, just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank.
As president, it’s my job to keep our country strong and safe. We must counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to out-compete China and work for greater stability in a substantial region of the world. To do these things, we need to engage directly with the countries that can impact these outcomes. Saudi Arabia is one of them, and when I meet with Saudi leaders on Friday, my goal will be to strengthen a strategic partnership going forward based on mutual interests and responsibilities, while remaining true to core American values.
On Friday, I will also be the first president to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This trip will also be a small symbol of the budding relations and steps toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world, which my administration is working to deepen and expand. In Jeddah, leaders from across the region will meet, underscoring the possibility of a more stable and integrated Middle East, with the United States playing a vital leadership role.
Of course, the region remains full of challenges: Iranian nuclear program and support for proxy groups, Syrian civil war, food security crises exacerbated by Russia’s war against Ukraine, terrorist groups still active in several countries, political stalemate in Iraq, Libya and Lebanon, and human rights standards that still lag behind much of the world. We have to fix all these problems. When I meet with leaders from across the region, I will make it clear to them how important it is to make progress in these areas.
Yet, compared to 18 months ago, the region is less under pressure and more integrated. Former rivals restored relations. Joint infrastructure projects forge new partnerships. Iraq, which has long been a source of proxy conflict and regional rivalry, now serves as a diplomatic hub, including between Saudi Arabia and Iran. My friend King Abdullah of Jordan recently referred to the “new vibe” in the region, with countries asking, “How can we connect with each other and work with each other.”
These are promising trends, which the United States can reinforce in a way that no other country can. My trip next week will serve that purpose.
Throughout my journey, I will remember the millions of Americans who have served in the region, including my son Beau, and the 7,054 dead in conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan since 9/11. 2001.
Next week, I will be the first president to visit the Middle East since 9/11 without US troops engaged in a combat mission there. It’s my goal to keep it that way.