Biden administration seeking greater Mideast engagement, influence: Experts

Biden administration seeking greater Mideast engagement, influence: Experts
US saw it needed to change its policies after perceiving China to have developed closer ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia (AFP)
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Updated 27 September 2023

Biden administration seeking greater Mideast engagement, influence: Experts

Biden administration seeking greater Mideast engagement, influence: Experts
  • China’s growing power, Russia-Ukraine war forced US policy turnaround, say panelists at Washington D.C. forum
  • Saudi Arabia considered a key partner in America’s new foreign policy approach

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking increased engagement with Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries — a marked shift from its previous policy position — because of China’s and Russia’s growing influence in the region, and their military and economic expansionist ambitions. 

This was the consensus reached by experts evaluating US foreign policy at a forum convened on Monday by the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. 

The event titled “Assessing Biden’s Middle East Policy Approach, 2021–2023,” saw panelists analyze why the administration, which took office in 2021, initially had little desire to engage with what the US perceived as the declining geopolitical importance of Middle East nations. 

The experts argued that there were two main reasons for the White House’s subsequent change of heart — the first being Russia’s war in Ukraine launched in February 2021, and the second China’s rising regional influence which saw Beijing score a coup of sorts by brokering a rapprochement deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this year. 

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow and the vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute, said the Biden administration came into office with the mantra of the “Three Cs” — COVID-19, China and climate change. 

Katulis argued that Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s increased footprint in the Middle East triggered an alarm in Biden’s White House. 

“Last spring there was a steady realization in Washington that traditional allies such as Saudi Arabia might be leaning toward China,” he said.  

“China’s brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia earlier this year was a seismic moment and a wake-up call for many in the White House,” he added. 

Dennis Ross, a former advisor on the Middle East to several Democrat and Republican administrations and currently a fellow at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the Biden administration did not care about the Middle East when it took office in 2021. 

Ross said the conflict in Ukraine changed the dynamics and it was not just oil and energy — the revenue from which Russia needs to finance its war — that drove the administration to reengage in the Middle East.  

Ross said Biden’s world view also played a role, which was that there was a global ideological struggle at play between democracy and totalitarianism.     

He said the administration wanted to establish a liberal, rules-based international order to counter perceived threats from China and Russia. But it soon realized that it needed what it viewed as non-democratic nations to be part of the coalition. 

 “It turns out that you need non-democracies who have assets to be part of your coalition or at least ensure they are not part of the other coalition,” he said. 

“Biden said we are not going to withdraw from the Middle East and leave a vacuum that the Russians and the Chinese are going to fill,” he added. 

Ross argued that Biden’s policy toward the Middle East was more about China than Russia, arguing that the latter was likely to be much weaker because of the war in Ukraine. 

The US was also seeking to be the architect of an agreement to establish formal ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, as part of its vision to prevent powerful competitors from establishing footholds in the oil-rich region.  

Ross said the recent visits to Saudi Arabia by Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, were part of the efforts to reengage with the Kingdom’s leadership. 

Agreeing with Ross’ main arguments, Middle East expert and academic Vali Nasr pointed to the manner in which the Biden administration attempted to construct a Middle East coalition to oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions. 

Nasr, who is professor of International Affairs and Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University, said that Biden had traveled to Saudi Arabia in July 2022 after a visit to Israel, in order to sell them the idea of an “Arab NATO,” a proposed US-sponsored Middle East military coalition designed to counter Iran. 

“But Biden was completely rebuffed by the Saudis who told him that they are going on the path of reengagement with Iran,” he said. 

Nasr added that the US saw it needed to change its policies after perceiving China to have developed closer ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. 

UK team helping PA prepare for Gaza takeover: Defense secretary

UK team helping PA prepare for Gaza takeover: Defense secretary
Updated 11 sec ago

UK team helping PA prepare for Gaza takeover: Defense secretary

UK team helping PA prepare for Gaza takeover: Defense secretary
  • Grant Shapps visits Israel, holds talks with Palestinian officials in Ramallah
  • British Support Team has been in West Bank for over a decade working with PA on security issues

LONDON: British military personnel are helping the Palestinian Authority prepare to take control of the Gaza Strip, Defense Secretary Grant Shapps told The Times.

The British Support Team, which works with US and Canadian personnel, has been in Ramallah for over a decade, working with elements of the Palestinian security services, he said.

Shapps met the team and PA Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Ziad Hab Al-Reeh in Ramallah on Thursday, and said the UK’s presence could be expanded to assist the PA with any power transition in Gaza.

“Ultimately, I think the solution (to governance of Gaza) is likely to be a Palestinian Authority, who need to be capable of a level of governance which will require a huge amount of international help and support and we are not there yet,” Shapps said.

“When something really terrible happens what we absolutely need to do is get something that is better than what was there before.

“We have to use this appalling crisis to improve the security of Israelis and the lives and livelihoods of Palestinians. And I think you do that by bringing together an international coalition which is led by Arab states in terms of the on-the-ground reconstruction of Gaza and also administratively.

“One of the reasons we are going to Ramallah to talk to the Palestinian Authority is to understand their capacity and ability. One of the things we will be doing is talking to the British team who are helping to build that capacity along with the Americans.”

Shapps, who is Jewish, also met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. They lit candles to mark the first day of Hanukkah, while Shapps also visited a kibbutz near Israel’s border with Gaza.

His comments come in sharp contrast to those of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said Israel needs security control over Gaza after its military operation in the enclave ends.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in November that the PA taking control in Gaza would depend on a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Harry says UK not safe for him and family without security

Prince Harry. (AP)
Prince Harry. (AP)
Updated 45 min 18 sec ago

Harry says UK not safe for him and family without security

Prince Harry. (AP)
  • The youngest son of King Charles III quit the British royal family with his wife Meghan in early 2020, and settled in California


LONDON: Prince Harry believes he was forced to leave the UK and that he and his family can never feel safe during visits home without adequate security, a court was told Thursday.
The youngest son of King Charles III quit the British royal family with his wife Meghan in early 2020, and moved to north America, eventually settling in California.
He has brought a case against the British government at the High Court in London after his UK taxpayer-funded protection was removed.
A hearing has been taking place since Tuesday, with only the opening and closing session open to the media and public for security reasons.
On Thursday, his lawyer Shaheed Fatima said Harry did not accept that he chose to stop being a “full-time working member of the royal family.” Fatima read his written statement to the court, which said: “It was with great sadness for both of us that my wife and I felt forced to step back from this role and leave the country in 2020.
“The UK is my home. The UK is central to the heritage of my children and a place I want them to feel at home as much as where they live at the moment in the US.
“That cannot happen if it’s not possible to keep them safe when they are on UK soil.
“I cannot put my wife in danger like that and, given my experiences in life, I am reluctant to unnecessarily put myself in harm’s way too.”
Harry’s lawyers have argued that the decision to change his security arrangements as a result of his departure was “unlawful and unfair” given his royal status and his mother Princess Diana’s death.
She was killed in a high-speed car crash in Paris in 1997 as she tried to escape paparazzi photographers.
But lawyers for the government reject that he was “singled out” and treated “less favorably” or that a proper risk analysis was not carried out.
James Eadie, for the Interior Ministry, told the court that it was decided Harry would not be provided the same level protection as before because he had left the royal family and mostly lived abroad.
A judgment in the case — one of five involving Harry at the High Court — will be given at a later date.
In May, he lost a bid for a legal review of a government decision refusing him permission to pay for specialist UK police protection himself.
The ministry argued then that it was “not appropriate” for wealthy people to “buy” protective security when it had decided that it was not in the public interest for such taxpayer-funded protection.
London’s Metropolitan Police also opposed Harry’s offer on the grounds that it would be wrong to “place officers in harm’s way upon payment of a fee by a private individual.”



Protesters blockade Israel-linked UK defense factories

Protesters blockade Israel-linked UK defense factories
Updated 07 December 2023

Protesters blockade Israel-linked UK defense factories

Protesters blockade Israel-linked UK defense factories
  • Sites in Bournemouth, Glasgow, Brighton, Lancashire targeted for selling parts used in F-35 manufacturing
  • Workers for a Free Palestine group demands UK govt back Gaza ceasefire, Israel withdraw from Occupied Territories

LONDON: Protests have taken place at factories across the UK tied to the arms industry over the sale of equipment to Israel.

Hundreds of members of the Workers for a Free Palestine group arrived at sites in Bournemouth, Glasgow, Brighton and Lancashire to call on manufacturers including BAE Systems to sever relations with Israel. Protests also took place in France and Denmark at other defense-related facilities.

At the factory in Glasgow, a banner reading “Stop Arming Israel” was unfurled at an entrance alongside Palestinian flags.

The sites are thought to manufacture and supply parts for the F-35 jet, a multi-role combat aircraft built by US defense firm Lockheed Martin, which Israel has used in missions over Gaza.

The group is also calling on the UK government to demand a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, and for Israeli forces to leave the Occupied Territories.

A Workers for a Free Palestine spokeswoman told Sky News that the F-35 is a key component of “Israel’s murderous war machine.”

She added: “The fighter jets these factories help to produce are being used to imprison the people of Gaza in a death trap.

“They are ordered to evacuate when they have nowhere safe to go, while our government still refuses to back a ceasefire.

“Workers all over Britain are rising up for Palestine, saying we will not allow arms used in a genocide to be supplied in our name and funded by our taxes.”

A protester said BAE System’s management, not its workers, is responsible for selling lethal items to Israel. “It is them we hold accountable for being part of the chain of killing,” he told Sky News.

A BAE Systems spokesperson said the company is “horrified” by the “devastating impact” that the conflict is having on civilians in Gaza, adding: “We operate under the tightest regulations and comply fully with all applicable defense export controls, which are subject to ongoing assessment.”

UK PM Sunak faces party revolt after unveiling new Rwanda asylum plan

UK PM Sunak faces party revolt after unveiling new Rwanda asylum plan
Updated 07 December 2023

UK PM Sunak faces party revolt after unveiling new Rwanda asylum plan

UK PM Sunak faces party revolt after unveiling new Rwanda asylum plan
  • The Rwanda scheme is at the center of the government’s strategy to stop illegal migration

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was battling to keep his party together on Thursday a day after unveiling a plan to disregard some human rights law to send migrants to Rwanda, bringing back to the fore deep divisions in his party.
Facing the biggest challenge to his year-long tenure, Sunak is trying to stop lawmakers on the Conservative Party’s right wing from rebelling over their demand that Britain should quit international treaties to set its own migration policy.
His immigration minister quit on Wednesday and he is facing questions as to whether he can get his key policy through a vote in parliament. Some Conservative lawmakers said on Thursday that Sunak could face a leadership challenge.
The prime minister was due to hold a press conference at 1100 GMT.
One Conservative politician, who reluctantly supports the Rwanda plan, said the last year had shown that his colleagues can be ruthless in removing a struggling prime minister.
“I have a feeling of deja vu,” he said.
The draft legislation comes three weeks after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that Rwanda was not a safe place to send those arriving in small boats on the southern coast of England, and that the plan would breach British and international law.
The Rwanda scheme is at the center of the government’s strategy to stop illegal migration. The court’s decision was a setback for Sunak who is struggling to revive a weak economy and is heavily trailing the main opposition party ahead of an election expected next year.
Sunak could make the vote in parliament on the new legislation next week a confidence vote — meaning that if he loses, it could trigger a national election — in an attempt to shore up party support.
So far only one Conservative lawmaker has publicly called for a no confidence vote, but she said six of her colleagues have done so privately.
To trigger a leadership challenge, 53 of the 350 Conservative lawmakers in parliament must write letters of no confidence to the chairman of the 1922 Committee.
Sunak suffered his first parliamentary defeat this week as members of parliament voted to establish a compensatory body for victims of the infected blood scandal.
The prime minister has pleaded with his party to get behind the legislation as the best chance to get flights to Rwanda leaving before the next election.
A poll last month showed immigration was one of the three biggest issues facing the country. Only the economy and National Health Service were seen as more important.
Last year net legal migration hit a record of 745,000 people and around 45,000 arrived illegally.
Rwanda currently only has the capacity to accept a few hundred migrants from Britain, but ministers say the plan will act as a vital deterrent to discourage people from making the crossings.
The new bill will instruct judges to ignore some sections of the Human Rights Act (HRA) and provisions of domestic or international law that might deem that Rwanda was not a safe destination, though appeals by people based on specific circumstances would still be permitted.
The former interior minister Suella Braverman, former immigration minister Robert Jenrick and their allies say that does not go far enough, with some wanting Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights altogether.
“I’m very concerned that the bill on the table will allow a merry-go-round of legal claims and litigation,” Braverman told BBC radio, but said no one was talking about changing the party’s leader.
“The reality is, and the solid truth is, that it won’t work and it will not stop the boats.”

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman
Updated 07 December 2023

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman
  • Dr. Noubar Afeyan speaks at Advanced Tomorrow 2023 Singapore Summit
  • Development of Moderna’s vaccine against COVID-19 was matter of ‘luck’

SINGAPORE: The world is not prepared to face another pandemic, the co-founder and chairman of Moderna said, as insufficient attention was being paid globally to health system resilience.

Dr. Noubar Afeyan, a biochemical engineer who co-founded the US-based drugmaker in 2010, was speaking at the Advanced Tomorrow 2023 Summit held in Singapore on Dec. 3 to 6.

Organized and co-hosted by the Advanced Tomorrow, or ATOM, initiative and Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine of the National University of Singapore, the meeting of global political, business, and academic leaders focused on the future of healthcare amid geopolitical changes and technological advancements.

During a discussion on the ability of health systems to prepare for shocks and global disruptions such as the global outbreak of coronavirus in 2020, Afeyan, whose company’s COVID-19 vaccine became the second one to get cleared for use in the US, said the quick release of jabs may have given “the wrong impression” of resilience.

“We got lucky, because it so happened that this virus was amenable to an intervention that the company that I co-founded, Moderna, had developed a technology for,” he said.

A similar technology was developed by Pfizer, whose vaccine against COVID-19 was the first to receive a green light from the US Food and Drug Administration. But the fact that what both companies worked on at the time ended up being useful in addressing the coronavirus outbreak was accidental and will not help if the next health crisis is caused by a completely different pathogen.

“There will be other threats, for example, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, that this technology is not going to work for,” Afeyan added. “We have no good solutions for that right now. So, if there’s a major bacterial outbreak through the food system, through any other means, we’d be really gambling that we can come up with something quickly.”

The problem with preparedness was in both attention and funding worldwide being directed not toward long-term health security but to short-term solutions.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of attention paid to resilience because resilience always gathers momentum after there’s been a failure,” Afeyan said. “As soon as the failure is forgotten, resilience goes out of the window.”

Dr. Armen Sarkissian, former president of Armenia and theoretical physicist who chairs ATOM, said on the sidelines of the Singapore conference that current approaches were like betting on an uncertain outcome, with success depending only on luck.

“We are at a crossroads of a huge number of problems. One problem, for example, is the resistance to antibiotics ... We were lucky that 100 years ago, by accident again, (Scottish physician and microbiologist) Mr. (Alexander) Fleming found penicillin, but we have overused penicillin and related drugs,” Sarkissian told Arab News.

He noted that it was necessary to pay more attention to health security and realize that in the 21st century the ongoing climate crisis and the related problems of food security and water scarcity were not the only ones, with a possible health crisis likely to be even bigger than the former.

“We on this planet need definitely, first of all, a holistic approach to our health. Secondly, raising awareness, money, and support to health-related research — biological, biophysical sciences, and so on — and to accelerate the process to find solutions to many possible problems that we are going to face,” he said.

“It’s time that we look inside ourselves, care about ourselves alongside the planet. So, I will put together, with climate care, healthcare, climate security with health security. And the international community has to come together, under the United Nations, in the form of a COP (the Conference of the Parties, which is the annual Climate Change Conference), and we’ll see what we can do together.”