Biden administration’s opportunity to put ‘diplomacy first’ in the Middle East

(Photo: AFP)
A bevy of diplomatic meetings have been taking place across the Middle East this past week, bringing together leaders and top diplomats from some key countries that do not usually spend a lot of time out in the open with one another. The most recent of these took place at the start of this week at a desert retreat in Israel where the country’s founder David Ben-Gurion is buried and included the participation of four Arab countries (Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain) as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.اضافة اعلان

It is too early to tell whether what was discussed at this latest meeting, including the announcement of a new regional security architecture, will take root and produce lasting results. But one thing is for certain: the tectonic plates in the region continue to shift in important but as yet unclear ways. This means the Biden administration should look for opportunities to put into practice what it promises in one of its favorite foreign policy slogans, “diplomacy first”.

A long list of issues confronts US policymakers on the Middle East, including a possible renewed nuclear deal with Iran at a time of continued escalation and regional instability as many countries are on edge amid worries about human security driven by higher food and energy prices as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine. In addition to these challenges, there are opportunities, like the many possibilities for de-escalating tensions across the region through diplomacy backed by more balanced security cooperation and the search for new ways to jumpstart the long-stalled efforts on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

The fundamental question the Biden administration faces at this juncture in its Middle East approach is whether it is going to engage more deeply than it has over its first year or maintain its posture of staying mostly above the fray and pursuing selective diplomacy at key junctures. At a time when Russia’s war in Ukraine rages and the global competition with China continues to loom large, it may seem unlikely that the US would focus more diplomatic attention on the Middle East. But doubling down with a strategic reengagement and leading with diplomacy is needed to make sure America is shaping dynamics in the region in a way that benefits broader global stability.

That would mean making sure that key actors who have not been at the center of these regional discussions like Jordan and Saudi Arabia are not left on the sidelines, and it also means making sure that Palestinian leaders and their people are brought into the picture. Helping countries face the long-standing threats to stability from Iran and its network of partners across the region like Hezbollah is another key component, no matter what happens with the Iran deal.

Doing all of this will require the Biden administration to have a deeper diplomatic bench that is more empowered than the current team.

A formal security alliance in the Middle East is an idea that has come up from time to time over the years; it has fallen short in large part because of the lack of trust among key actors in the region.

There is no guarantee that stepped-up US diplomatic engagement in the Middle East will resolve these issues. But as the Biden administration is seeing in the efforts to maintain transatlantic unity on Ukraine, it requires constant diplomacy combined with security reassurances to get results.

Lasting peace and stability in the Middle East will likely remain elusive for a long time to come, but recent shifts could produce important openings if the US deepens and broadens its diplomatic engagement across the region.

The writer is a senior fellow and vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute.

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