US Congress views Joe Biden’s Middle East trip through traditional ideological lenses

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Senator Ben Cardin: America must play an active role in the region so that malevolent forces do not fill the vacuum

Congressional Democrats were mostly suspicious but understanding of US President Joe Biden’s meetings with Saudi officials over the weekend. Some Republicans, after largely supporting former President Donald Trump’s comfort with Saudi Arabia, took the opportunity to slam President Biden for averting his eyes from national priorities.

The US president embarked on a four-day trip on Saturday, visiting Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Saudi Arabia. He met with a host of government officials at every step, culminating with the Jeddah Security and Development Summit on Saturday, which included the United States and the GCC+3, made up of the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries as well as from Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

President Biden’s meetings with Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, were among the most anticipated and watched, due to tension between the US leader and Mohammad following his sharp criticism of the record. latest human rights record and his alleged involvement in the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident.

Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Media Line that America must play an active role in the region, however uncomfortable at times, so that malevolent forces do not fill the void.

“We have to make sure that we can conduct relationships with strategic partners, even if we have strong disagreements. And with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we strongly disagree with their human rights commitments. Some of the things they’ve done – and Khashoggi’s murder is one of the major issues that has yet to be fully resolved – but it goes way beyond that, to other issues of human rights violations. man who concern us,” Cardin said. .

“But that can’t stop us from being engaged. Saudi Arabia is a major player in this region. We want them to align with us when it comes to strategic negotiations. We don’t want them to be forced to choose other partners who are adversaries for their relationships,” the senator continued.

“We would also like to see the Saudis more supportive of oil production, given the impact of oil prices on inflation. So there are reasons why we need to have these strategic discussions. We also like that the Saudis are a clearer player in what’s going on in Yemen, so we have multiple files that we need to move forward on, and I think the president actually has the right to lead these meetings, but he needs to make it clear that this is part of our values,” said Cardin.

During President Biden’s trip, Saudi Arabia announced the opening of its airspace to all countries. Israeli officials stressed the move was a public first step toward Saudi-Israeli normalization, though Saudi officials said it had nothing to do with Israel and remained firm in their stance that normalization would not happen. not in the absence of a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Saudi officials have also disavowed reports of an impending Gulf security alliance in the NATO mould, which would include Israel.

Nonetheless, U.S. Representative Ritchie Torres (D-New York), a member of the bipartisan, bicameral Abraham Accords Caucus, told The Media Line that normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia is a U.S. priority that must be pursued.

“The United States has a historic opportunity to build in the Middle East the kind of security architecture we have in Europe, and the Abraham Accords, which laid the foundations for a new Middle East, are a An essential pillar of American leadership in the world. And for me, the Holy Grail of the Abraham Accords is the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which the United States is in a strong position to help broker. should therefore be the president’s strategic priority,” Torres said.

Republicans, meanwhile, although they overwhelmingly support the concept of the Abraham Accords and have previously criticized the president for his failed foreign policy in the Middle East, partly to blame for the rise in oil prices, have said he would be better served staying at home, in the face of the national issues that have plagued his agenda and sent his poll numbers plummeting.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) tweeted side-by-side photos, one of which showed him talking with workers at what appeared to be a US oil production plant. The other photo showed President Biden knocking down Crown Prince Mohammed for the first time. The tweet’s caption read, “America first vs. America last,” showing McCarthy’s disdain for the president’s home power agenda.

This follows a letter sent to President Biden on Tuesday by a group of 69 House Republicans, led by New Mexico Representative Yvette Herrell. The missive called on the president to commit to producing oil and gas in the United States and to meet with Americans who work in the energy industry. Lawmakers have criticized America’s reliance on energy from authoritarian governments like Saudi Arabia.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took the opportunity to criticize President Biden for focusing on securing the wrong borders.

“Joe Biden found time to go to Saudi Arabia, but not to the southern border, for the worst illegal immigration in 62 years,” Cruz said in an interview over the weekend.

Some of the more progressive Democrats in Congress — Torres being an exception — have been equally critical of what they called President Biden’s flattering visit to Israel, during which multiple joint statements, pacts and initiatives were announced. Among them was the launch of the US-Israel High-Level Technology Dialogue, tasked with partnering on several “critical and emerging technologies and solutions to global challenges,” according to a statement released by the White House.

“Israel is the leader in ingenuity and innovation and has more innovation per capita than any country in the world. And the technology partnership between the United States and Israel reminds us that the relationship is not a one-way street. It’s a symbiotic relationship. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Torres, who serves on a House Homeland Security subcommittee responsible for cybersecurity.

Congressional Republicans who spoke about the president’s trip to Israel have widely criticized his lack of leadership in the region and his supposed pampering of the Palestinians.

“He’s not going about it in a pro-Israel way,” GOP Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said on Fox News as President Biden landed in Israel on Wednesday. Blackburn said he only went to Israel “because he had to”. Blackburn also criticized the president for failing to note former President Donald Trump’s handling of the Abraham Accords, and the Republican National Committee took aim at President Biden’s dubious claim in a TV interview. that the Trump administration “sort of walked away from the Middle East.”

Six Republican members of Congress, led by Representative Beth Van Duyne of Texas, sent President Biden a letter criticizing his visit to a Palestinian hospital in east Jerusalem. The letter called the visit “a sign of continued support for the Palestinians in their illegitimate efforts to claim” the eastern part of the city.

This visit led to one of the few controversial aspects of President Biden’s visit to Israel. The White House refused to allow Israeli officials to follow this part of the itinerary, saying it was a private visit, and US personnel removed the Israeli flag from the president’s armored presidential car during of the trip to the hospital.

In a microcosm of the developing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Biden’s meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and the announcement of major US aid to the Palestinians were widely seen as a footnote to page to the broader regional travel.

Cardin said it was important the issue remained a priority.

“I think it is absolutely essential that we keep alive and move forward the fundamental issue of two states living side by side in peace. And we must respond to humanitarian needs. But we have to do it in a way that is consistent with our values. You must do this in a way that ensures that the aid actually reaches the Palestinians and is not diverted to terrorist activities. Palestinian leaders must be sensitive to these issues and must take advantage of the opportunities that exist,” Cardin said.

President Biden, while reiterating his support for a two-state solution, made it clear during his visit to Bethlehem that he does not believe the conditions are currently ripe for advancing a process of political settlement.

Torres blamed it on Ramallah’s feet.

“The Palestinians are victims of failing leadership from the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. The Palestinians are caught between a theocracy within Hamas and a kleptocracy within the Palestinian Authority, and these are two structural challenges to the creation of a Palestinian state. The PA’s incompetence never shocks me,” Torres said.

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