US President Joe Biden is using a summit of Arab nations to lay out his strategy for the Middle East as he closes the final leg of a four-day trip meant to bolster ties in the region.
At the summit that began in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah on Saturday, Biden said the United States “will not walk away” from the Middle East.
Leaders of six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates – plus Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq are holding talks on regional security and bilateral relations with the United States at the summit.
“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 US forces continue to target armed groups in the region and remain deployed at bases throughout the Middle East, Biden suggested that he was turning the page after Washington’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Today, I am 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.
Biden also 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,” he said, including allowing people to “question and criticise leaders without fear of reprisal.”
The US president spent Saturday morning meeting individually with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and the UAE, some of whom he had never sat down with.
Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent Kimberly Halkett said in terms of a political win, Biden was going back home “empty-handed”.
“He needed to push the Saudis to pump more oil to bring down energy prices in the United States – that goal has not been accomplished,” Halkett said, speaking from Doha.
However, Biden believes that there are other goals of value that will take time to reap the benefits, she continued.
“He believes that there will be improved cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbours in the future,” Halkett said. “There will be increased economic productivity and increased economic cooperation, but these are not things that are going to be visible in the near future.”
For Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara, Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia is more significant than his stop in Israel.
“The alliance with Israel is strong, [so] I think what’s new is what’s happening with Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Bishara also said Biden has three Ds in his strategy.
“It’s important to once again underline the things the US president mentioned: America is going to continue with diplomacy. It is also going to do so with deterrence, [preventing] Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And de-escalation. He once again commended the idea that there is a ceasefire in Yemen,” Bishara added.
At the summit, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said achieving stability in the Gulf region is essential not only to it but to the international community.
“We reaffirm our position to spare the Gulf and the Middle East the danger of a nuclear armament while recognising the right of the countries in the region to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in accordance with international law,” Sheikh Tamim said.
The emir also said regional instability will continue as long as Israel maintains its occupation of the Palestinian people.
“One of the most important sources of instability will linger unless Israel stops its violation of international law reflected in the building of settlements and changing Jerusalem’s character and continuing to impose siege on Gaza,” he said.
“It is inappropriate for Arabs to keep making proposals while Irsael’s role is confined to rejecting them and increasing its intransigence.”