The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s request that the United States provide the Sunni Gulf country with ironclad security guarantees and civilian nuclear aid in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel is casting a new light on Washington’s ability to secure a tangible Mideast foreign policy victory.
Critics of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Middle East policy see a lack of focus on advancing the negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Richard Grenell, who served as Acting Director of U.S. Intelligence during the Trump administration, told JNS, “We should continue talking to Saudi Arabia about normalizing relations with Israel. I would hope the Biden administration is exploring every possible conversation. While these can be difficult conversations sometimes, there should be an urgency to peace talks. It is concerning that the State Department doesn’t have serious negotiators at the top. In fact, the White House is clearly shoving Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken aside, so they must realize he isn’t up to the job.”
Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told JNS that “what makes Biden’s team more irrational is that there is precedent for what Riyadh asks. In 2004, George W. Bush proposed a Global Nuclear Energy Partnership to help countries like Saudi Arabia tap nuclear technology for energy production in a controlled, more proliferation-proof way. Riyadh isn’t asking for something new; it is asking for something that was on the table two decades ago.”
Rubin, who has written extensively about American negotiations in the Mideast, added, “As for security guarantees, wasn’t it Hillary Clinton who once offered to extend a nuclear umbrella across the region should Iran go nuclear? Once again, we’ve got to stop throwing our allies under the bus. Why the White House would expect Saudi Arabia to answer any of its calls when Biden, Blinken, and [National Security Advisor Jake] Sullivan treat the kingdom the way their vegan friends treat meat is beyond me.”
According to critics like Mike Doran, a senior fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Hudson Institute, the Obama administration favored a policy that sought to create a new Mideast paradigm, pivoting the United States toward the Shi’ite Islamic Republic of Iran at the expense of traditional U.S. Sunni allies such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the formal name for the Iran nuclear deal—was considered the crowning achievement of Obama’s foreign policy agenda. The JCPOA provided Iran’s regime with over $100 billion in sanctions relief, as well as temporary restrictions on its nuclear program. The Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, citing what it claimed were deficiencies in the agreement, such as its failure to impose a permanent ban on Tehran’s capability to build a nuclear bomb.
“Biden’s team is neither realistic nor rational on this issue,” said Rubin. “Maybe the White House believes its own spin about the JCPOA, but everyone in the region sees it for what it is: laundering decades of Iranian cheating on its nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations. Leaving Iran with an industrial-scale program is seen throughout the region as blessing Iranian proliferation,” he added.
Saudi Arabia is following the lead of other Sunni Arab countries in its effort to secure concessions from Washington to boost its security in exchange for a regional peace agreement. The Trump administration recognized Western Sahara as Moroccan territory, leading the North African nation to normalize relations with Israel. Trump’s State Department also de-listed Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, paving the way for diplomatic relations between Israel and Khartoum.
The Saudi monarchy’s acute anxiety regarding America and Europe was the subject of Saudi journalist ‘Abdallah bin Bjad Al-‘Otaibi’s March 12 column in the Saudi Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily. The Middle East Media Research Institute translated significant parts of the column, that was written after China negotiated the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“For all of modern history, the senior allies of the Arab Gulf countries were the Western countries, America and Europe. For four decades these countries did nothing to protect the security of the Arab Gulf countries from the ongoing and constant Iranian threat; in fact, they are not prepared to do anything in this matter,” wrote the Saudi journalist.
“They signed a nuclear agreement with Iran, about which the Gulf states and the relevant Arab countries were not consulted, and did not consider these countries’ priorities or security. Furthermore, the policy they implement is reminiscent more of fawning, and the Western political apparatus has become a failure and ineffectual in dealing with Iran. There was no option but to seek a replacement for [the West]. And then along came China.”