JEDDAH: While many in Western news media were busy with the topic of “fist bumps,” an array of important outcomes of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia went mostly unreported.
Saudi Arabia was the final stop in Biden’s four-day Middle East trip, which kicked off on July 13 in Israel and Palestine.
As part of the bilateral agreements signed between the two sides, Biden reaffirmed the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory and people from external attacks, particularly those launched by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
The two sides made several joint commitments to the wider region, among them an agreement to sustain and extend the UN-mediated truce in Yemen and engage in a diplomatic process to reach a wider settlement of the conflict.
Biden welcomed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the truce, which has helped to resume direct commercial flights from Sanaa to Amman and Cairo and financially support Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council to improve basic services and economic stability for Yemenis.
Both sides agreed to intensify their efforts to preserve the free flow of commerce and deter illicit smuggling into Yemen through strategic waterways in the region by expanding their joint naval operations focused on the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandab Strait.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the two sides agreed that peacekeepers, including American soldiers, will depart Tiran Island by the end of the year, after which the island will be developed for tourism purposes.
Since shortly after the 1978 Camp David Accords, US troops have served as peacekeepers on Tiran Island as part of the Multinational Force and Observers under the peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt.
In furtherance of its Vision 2030 agenda to become a regional travel and entertainment hub and in accordance with the principles of the Chicago Convention of 1944, Saudi Arabia announced its decision to allow all civilian air carriers to fly over its airspace.
Both sides also agreed to extend visa validity to 10 years for nationals of both countries to visit for business and tourism.
On the technology front, Saudi and US officials agreed to pursue several major infrastructure projects, including a new bilateral framework for cooperation on 5G — using open, virtualized and cloud-based radio access networks — and the development of 6G.
Saudi Arabia has committed to a significant investment for this project under the umbrella of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, which Biden announced at the G7 Summit in June.
The Kingdom’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology signed a memorandum of understanding with IBM to train 100,000 young Saudis over a period of five years.
A key feature of Biden’s visit was energy security in light of the war in Ukraine and the resulting Western embargoes on Russian oil and gas. The two sides agreed to expand cooperation on energy security, with Saudi officials committing to support the balancing of the global oil market.
US officials welcomed the Saudi commitment to increase oil production by 50 percent above what was planned for July and August. Nevertheless, the Saudi crown prince made it clear the Kingdom would not expand monthly production beyond 13 million barrels.
“Saudi Arabia’s policy on oil has been to try to seek balance in the energy markets, to make sure that the markets are adequately supplied and that there are no shortages,” Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, told Arab News in an exclusive interview during Biden’s visit.
In order to meet the demands of the market, Saudi Arabia “will continue to assess market needs and make decisions according to those needs.”
In line with both nations’ commitment to reducing carbon emissions, they agreed to a new framework for clean energy cooperation, focusing particularly on solar, green hydrogen and nuclear, with new Saudi investments to accelerate the energy transition and combat the effects of climate change.
The partnership will leverage public and private sector collaboration to advance the deployment of clean energy solutions while accelerating research, development and the demonstration of innovative technologies to decarbonize the global economy and achieve net-zero.
The US welcomed Saudi Arabia’s support for the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, which aims to strategically invest in projects that support digital connectivity, supply chain sustainability and climate and energy security focused on low- and middle-income countries.
It also welcomed the leading role played by Saudi Arabia in strengthening relations with Iraq, including the commitment to link the electricity networks of Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries to the Iraqi grid to provide it with diversified energy sources and wean it off reliance on Iran.
The dialogue also resulted in the signing of two bilateral agreements on cybersecurity with Saudi Arabia’s National Cybersecurity Authority — one with the FBI and another with the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
The two sides will expand their cooperation, share information about threats and activities of malicious actors to enhance their shared defense and collaborate on best practices, technologies, tools and approaches to cybersecurity training and education.
They agreed to expand cooperation in space exploration, including human spaceflight, Earth observation, commercial and regulatory development, and responsible behavior in outer space.
As part of the agreement, Saudi Arabia signed the Artemis Accords and restated its commitment to the responsible, peaceful and sustainable exploration and use of outer space.
Both nations also welcomed a new agreement between their respective ministries of health to share information, build capacity, collaborate on disease surveillance, address the health concerns of women and special needs populations, and pursue public policies oriented toward disease prevention and health promotion.
Saudi Arabia welcomed greater mutual investments in the areas of defense, renewable energy, manufacturing, healthcare, technology and innovation, which are contributing to job creation and localization goals.
New agreements include investments by Boeing, Raytheon, Medtronic and Digital Diagnostics, and IKVIA in the healthcare sector, and many other US companies across the energy, tourism, education, manufacturing and textiles sectors.
Other deals include Saudi Aramco Energy projects in recycled thermal plastics in the US, agreements in developing and implementing healthcare data and technology solutions, as well as supply chain localization for medical device technologies in Saudi Arabia.
“The joint communique that was issued following the bilateral meetings between the leaders of both nations underscored the many issues on which our policies align and on which we work closely together,” Fahad Nazer, spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, told Arab News.
The text of these agreements will likely be dissected in the weeks to come, not only by Middle East experts but also by the region’s malign actors and Washington’s strategic competitors for their full geopolitical ramifications as well as their symbolic significance.
Nazer put the significance of the visit this way: “The fact that President Biden visited Saudi Arabia on his first trip to the Middle East is both a testament to the strength of the strategic bilateral relations as well as the important leadership role that Saudi Arabia plays both regionally and globally.”
Officials say the bilateral agreements the two delegations signed in Jeddah will set the tone for future Saudi-US relations.
“The two countries are allies and partners and have been for eight decades. They have tremendous interests at stake, and they have tremendous challenges that they both are working together to confront,” Al-Jubeir said.
He pointed out that Biden’s visit symbolized “in very clear terms the importance of the relationship, the importance of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the US, and to global peace and security.”