By Mohammad Mazhari

Biden persuading S. Arabia to normalize ties with Israel: GSA chief

June 8, 2022 - 12:36

TEHRAN - Giorgio Cafiero, chief executive officer of Gulf State Analytics (GSA), believes that the administration of Joe Biden is encouraging Saudi Arabia to follow the UAE and Bahrain when it comes to normalizing ties with Israel.

“The U.S. leadership would very much like to see Saudi Arabia follow in the UAE and Bahrain’s footsteps in terms of entering the Abraham Accords,” Cafiero tells the Tehran Times.

“Yet given the high levels of risk that Riyadh would have to accept in normalizing relations with Tel Aviv, my personal view is that it is highly unlikely that Saudi Arabia would do so,” Cafiero notes.

President Joe Biden’s planned visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel later this month have been postponed until July, after a wave of criticism.

The White House is now planning a broader trip to West Asia next month, U.S. officials said.

“We are working on a trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia for a GCC+3 Summit,” a senior administration official told NBC News. 

Following is the text of the interview with Cafiero:

Q: What are the main reasons for President Biden's planned visit to West Asia, especially Saudi Arabia, a country he had vowed to treat as a 'pariah'?

A: Team Biden, like previous U.S. administrations, believes that Washington’s partnership with Saudi Arabia is important to U.S. national interests. Irrespective of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s fate in Vienna, the Biden administration will want to continue U.S. efforts to counter Iran’s regional influence. The view in Washington is that the U.S. must work with Israel and Arab states such as Saudi Arabia to pursue this agenda aimed at weakening the Islamic Republic. At the same time, Washington is worried about Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member-states moving closer to China and Russia in an increasingly multipolar world, especially amid the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine. One of Biden’s major motivations for visiting Saudi Arabia is to assert U.S. influence in the Persian Gulf and to try to mend ties with Riyadh, which the U.S. administration fears would move closer to Beijing and Moscow without Washington taking steps aimed at improving relations with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. 

“We can’t ignore domestic politics in the U.S. There are midterm elections and the Democrats are worried about high gas prices as a political liability.”We can’t ignore domestic politics in the U.S. There are midterm elections this year and the Democrats are worried about high gas prices as a political liability. There is a determination on the part of the Biden administration to push the Saudis to increase oil production. At the beginning of this month, the Saudis announced that in July and August they will modestly boost production. Team Biden will certainly try to convince Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing Arab states to go much further and make substantially greater increases.

Q: Do you think Biden is planning to strike a deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia? Is that a continuation of the Abraham Accords?

A: The U.S. leadership would very much like to see Saudi Arabia follow in the UAE and Bahrain’s footsteps in terms of entering the Abraham Accords. Yet given the high levels of risk that Riyadh would have to accept in normalizing relations with Tel Aviv, my personal view is that it is highly unlikely that Saudi Arabia would do so. There are members of the Al Saud family as well as many Saudi citizens who would strongly oppose their country signing such a diplomatic deal with Israel. The Kingdom joining the Abraham Accords would also be risky from the standpoint of Saudi Arabia’s reputation and standing throughout the wider Arab-Islamic world. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia and Israel have a decades-old tacit partnership and I expect this relationship to continue growing albeit without any formalization of diplomatic relations in the foreseeable future. 

Q: How do you see the international reputation of MBS?

A: Governments worldwide that want to continue dealing with Riyadh must come to terms with the fact that there is no good reason to believe that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will not become the next King of Saudi Arabia. Western governments which strongly condemned him for his role in the Khashoggi killing might feel uncomfortable engaging the crown prince. But there is a general understanding among foreign policy analysts that statesmen across the world have no choice, at least if they seek to maintain their relationships with the Kingdom. At the end of the day, governments make decisions based on perceived national interests, not values. Governments in the West are no exception. 

 Q: Do you think President Biden is going to follow Trump's policies when it comes to Saudi Arabia? I mean regarding Saudi Arabia as a “milk cow” in words of Trump.

A: There has been much continuity in U.S.-Saudi relations from one American administration to the next. However, compared to his predecessor, Biden is less transactional in dealing with Riyadh. Although with Biden at the helm the U.S. has continued selling arms to the Saudis, Biden is less cavalier than Trump when it comes to discussing these sales and the extent to which American firms profit from them. Also, with Trump’s administration, the relationship was very personality-driven and that is not the case with Biden’s team which deals with Saudi Arabia much more through institutions such as the Pentagon and State Department. 

Q: How do you see Biden's foreign policy shift in regard to Saudi Arabia?

A: Biden going to Saudi Arabia should not harm him much politically at home in America. A few years have passed since the Khashoggi murder. While that killing is not forgotten, the level of outrage surrounding the murder among many in the U.S. has decreased with time. At this juncture, with Americans dealing with inflation and other problems, I think Biden going to Saudi Arabia and trying to push the Saudis to boost oil production is a move that will receive significant support from the U.S. public. Nonetheless, there will be voices among the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party who criticize Biden for not allowing the Khashoggi murder to be a reason to continue not meeting with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. But among centrists in the Democratic Party and Republicans, there is a general understanding that the U.S.-Saudi partnership is very important. If Biden can come home and convince politicians in Washington and the American public at large that he secured concessions from Riyadh, I think the American president will not pay any real political price this year.

 

Leave a Comment

1 + 12 =