US ‘will not walk away’ from Middle East: Biden at Saudi summit

The United States “will not walk away” from the Middle East and leave a vacuum to be filled by Russia, China or Iran, US President Joe Biden has told a summit in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.

He also told the summit on Saturday that the US is committed to ensuring Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.

Leaders of six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates – plus Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq are holding talks on regional security and bilateral relations with the US at the summit.

Biden was using the summit to lay out his strategy for the Middle East as he closed the final leg of a four-day trip meant to bolster ties in the region.

“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran,” Biden said. “We will seek to build on this moment with active, principled, American leadership.”

Although US forces continue to target armed groups in the region and remain deployed at bases throughout the Middle East, Biden suggested that he was turning the page after Washington’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Today, I am proud to be able to say that the eras of land wars in the region, wars that involved huge numbers of American forces, is not under way,” he said.

Biden also pressed his counterparts, many of whom lead repressive governments, to ensure human rights, including women’s rights, and allow their citizens to speak openly.

“The future will be won by the countries that unleash the full potential of their populations,” he said, including allowing people to “question and criticise leaders without fear of reprisal.”

The US president spent Saturday morning meeting individually with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and the UAE.

On Friday, he met Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler who US intelligence agencies assess “approved” the 2018 operation that killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

After a fist bump with Crown Prince Mohammed, Biden said he raised the Khashoggi case and warned against future attacks on dissidents.

Crown Prince Mohammed, who chaired the opening of Saturday’s summit, has denied any role in the death of Khashoggi, who was dismembered in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate and whose remains have never been found.

Limited oil production increase

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince on Saturday said his country would increase its oil production to 13 million barrels maximum a day.

But Crown Prince Mohammed stressed that his country would be unable to increase output any further to meet the increased demand for oil amid the global energy crisis.

He made the comment as he opened the GCC summit. The crown prince also called on Iran to “cooperate with the nations of our region” and to not “interfere with the internal affairs” of other nations.

He also urged Tehran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent Kimberly Halkett said that Biden believes there are other goals of value that will take time to reap the benefits.

“He believes that there will be improved cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbours in the future,” Halkett said. “There will be increased economic productivity and increased economic cooperation, but these are not things that are going to be visible in the near future.”

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