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‘US will not walk away from ME’ US, Saudis sign several deals

JEDDAH, July 16, (Agencies): US 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 part of the world and boost the global flow of oil to reverse rising gas prices. His remarks, delivered at the Gulf Cooperation Council on the final leg of a four-day Middle East tour, came amid concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and support for militants in the region. “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 he was turning a page after the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. “Today, I’m proud to be able to say that the era of land wars in the region, wars that involved huge numbers of American forces, is not under way,” he said.

This image released by the Saudi Royal Palace, shows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, (right), greets President Joe Biden with a fist bump after his arrival at Al-Salam palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Friday, July 15, 2022

He announced $1 billion in U.S. aid to alleviate hunger in the region and he pressed his counterparts, many of whom 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,” Biden said, and that includes allowing people to “question and criticize leaders without fear of reprisal.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, convened the summit, which gave him a opportunity to showcase his country’s heavyweight role in the Mideast.

He also hinted that the kingdom could pump more oil than it is currently, something Biden is hoping to see when an existing production deal among OPEC+ member countries expires in September. After a lunch with other leaders, Biden began his trip back to Washington, flashing a thumbs-up and waving to reporters as he boarded Air Force One. Earlier, Biden met individually with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, some of whom he had never sat down with since taking office in January 2021. He invited Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who became president of the UAE two months ago, to visit the White House this year. iden also met with King Abdullah II of Jordan. The White House later announced that the U.S. was extending and expanding financial assistance to the country, to no less than $1.45 billion per year. The summit in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah was 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.

The crucial meeting which lasted for three hours, to repair one of the world’s most important diplomatic relationships began with a fist bump Friday as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden at a royal palace. The first encounter, captured by Saudi television, occurred as Biden stepped out of his presidential limousine in Jeddah for a visit that was intended to reset their countries’ longstanding partnership. There was little evidence of any warmth between the leaders, and none of the backslapping or smiles that Biden or the crown prince usually display when greeting other leaders. On Saturday, the White House released satellite imagery indicating that Russian officials visited Iran in June and July to see weapons-capable drones it is looking to acquire for use in Ukraine.

The disclosure appeared aimed at drawing a connection between the war in Europe and Arab leaders’ own concerns about Iran. So far, none of the countries represented at the summit has moved in lockstep with the U.S. to sanction Russia, a 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. Biden’s attendance at the summit followed his Friday meeting with the Saudi crown prince, heir to the throne currently held by his father, King Salman.

Deals signed
Biden said he signed several agreements over a broad range of matters during talks with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday. Speaking to reporters after the talks in Jeddah, Biden said he had discussed steps Riyadh could take to ensure global energy security and adequate oil supplies, according to the Al-Arabia news network. “I expect further steps from Saudi Arabia on global oil supply in the coming weeks,” he said. The president went on to mention several deals, signed by both countries, which cover regional political, technological and travel-related matters. These include an agreement to connect the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council’s electric grid to Iraq through member states Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

On Yemen, he said Washington and Riyadh agreed to work together to strengthen and extend the ceasefire there, which has been holding since April. Another deal sees international peacekeepers, including US troops, leaving Tiran Island that lies between Saudi Arabia and Egypt by the end of the year. Saudi Arabia on Friday opened its airspace to “all air carriers,” signaling the end of its longstanding ban on Israeli flights overflying its territory – a key step toward normalization between the two nations as President Joe Biden visits the region.

In a statement posted to Twitter hours before Biden is set to become the first U.S. leader to fl y directly from Israel to the kingdom, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation said it was announcing “the decision to open the Kingdom’s airspace for all air carriers that meet the requirements of the Authority for overflying.” The announcement is an incremental step toward the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and builds on the strong but informal ties the erstwhile foes have developed recent years over their shared concerns about Iran’s growing influence in the region. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has allowed flights between Israel and Gulf states to cross through its airspace. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and last week several Israeli defense reporters visited the kingdom and published news reports about their welcome.