US President gives wrap up speech on the final day of his Middle Eastern tour
Joe Biden has said the US “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 Co-operation Council summit of Arab leaders on the final leg of a four-day trip – came 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,” the US president said. “We will seek to build on this moment with active, principled, American leadership.”
Although US forces continue to target terrorists in the region and remain at bases throughout the Middle East, Mr Biden suggested 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.
He also pressed his counterparts, many of whom lead repressive governments, to ensure human rights, including women’s rights, and to 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 criticise leaders without fear of reprisal”.
Before the speech, Mr 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.
He 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 co-operation” between their countries under the sheikh’s leadership.
The Gulf Co-operation Council summit in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah is an opportunity for Mr 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, 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 US 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.
Mr Biden’s attendance at the 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 US-based writer Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence officials believe was likely approved by the crown prince.
But Mr 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.
Mr Biden and Prince Mohammed greeted each other with a fist bump when the president arrived at the royal palace in Jeddah, a gesture that was swiftly criticised.
Mr Biden later said he did not shy away from discussing Mr Khashoggi’s killing during their meeting.
The topic created a “frosty” start to the discussion, according to a US source.
However, the atmosphere eventually became more relaxed, the official said, as they spoke about energy security, expanding high-speed internet access in the Middle East and other issues.
Mr Biden even tried to inject some humour into the conversation by the end of the meeting, according to the official.