Apparently, President Biden will be visiting Riyadh as part of his forthcoming Middle East tour. The report on this coincides with an apparent end to negative comments about the nation’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), whom the CIA has accused of having ordered the execution and chopping up of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It must be admitted that MbS has made some progressive moves, allowing women to drive and reigning in to some extent the power of the Mutaween religious police. But he has also thrown many critics and just rivals into jail or confinement, in the case of wealthy rivals stripping them of much of their assets. A not regularly recognized fact is that MbS came to power by carrying out a coup against the former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, with it likely he was encouraged in this by Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, with the latter getting paid off with $2 billion by MbS after Trump left office.
Biden had avoided meeting MbS or even communicating with him. He also had cut off some of the military support the US had provided for MbS’s war in Yemen. Now he will be meeting him. Juan Cole claims that there are four reasons for this change of attitude: oil, Yemen, Israel, and Iran. Much of this reflects unfortunate events, within my view prospects for improvements not likely on most of these fronts.
The oil problem arises from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions on Russian oil, which have led to substantial oil price increases, exacerbating inflation in the US. Apparently, Biden would like the Saudis to increase oil production. But they have been in cahoots with Russia in wanting to restrain production and prop the price of oil up for a long time. It is not at all obvious Biden will get anything out of MbS on this matter.
Yemen is one matter here where something good may be happening. A cease-fire has been in place for two months, and Biden wishes to encourage this with the hope of a full-blown end to the war there. This is a worthy matter that I applaud.
Apparently, Israel has encouraged Biden to make this trip and hopes for Saudi Arabia to join, UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco in the Abraham Accords in recognizing Israel. I am not against that, per se, but supposedly Israel and Saudi Arabia are already cooperating on a number of initiatives. This certainly removes the Saudis from providing any pressure for better treatment of the Palestinians. And part of the matter with Israel involves the fourth matter, Iran.
On this I see nothing good. Israel and Saudi Arabia both are pleased to see that the US has not reentered the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran. The US should never have left the deal, and Biden should have gotten back into it soon after becoming president. But he followed the demands of Israel and various politicians in the US in making demands on Iran to do more things like end its missile program that were not part of the JCPOA and which most observers accurately forecast Iran would not go along with. That has proven the case. In any case, the Israelis and Saudis want to emphasize the US not rejoining the JCPOA.
I note that the Saudis probably will not give Biden a nice oil production increase. Does he want that? He should reenter the JCPOA and end the sanctions on Iran. They can provide that oil production increase, or at least some of one.