President Biden is traveling to Saudi Arabia this weekend to meet with Gulf Arab leaders, including the Saudi crown prince he once vowed to isolate. The American left grieves the president for his meeting with Mohammed bin Salman, the former “pariah”, but realpolitik has its demands. The United States needs a better relationship with the Saudis for regional security as much as for oil.
So far, the trip is proving to be good news in more ways than one. During his stopover in Israel, Mr. Biden showed little of the hostility towards the Jewish state that has marked President Obama’s tenure so much. Mr. Obama and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, have wasted years and political capital trying to force a Palestinian-Israeli solution that had no chance of happening as long as Hamas and other radicals swear to destroy Israel. The Biden White House isn’t losing hope, but it has other priorities.
One of them, believe it or not, seems to build on Donald Trump’s 2020 Abraham Accords which marked a breakthrough in diplomatic relations between Israel and some Arab states. Saudi Arabia did not join the agreements, but events point in this direction. Israel on Thursday approved a diplomatic deal on two Red Sea islands that could pave the way for normalizing Saudi-Israeli relations. The Biden team has to its credit quietly played a role in the talks.
The Saudi visit will be a trickier affair. The president must defend his meeting with the crown prince, known as MBS, despite what the CIA says was his complicity in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Mr Biden tried to punish MBS when he took office, ending support for the Saudi war in Yemen, halting an arms sale and launching new talks with Saudi adversaries in Iran over a nuclear deal .
Now he has to recoup most of that as he begs the Saudis to increase oil production. Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries with excess production capacity, but not enough to cause a sharp drop in the price of oil which is now around $96 a barrel. The world’s reserve oil suppliers these days are the Saudis, Iran and Venezuela, and the Saudis are St. Francis of Assisi in that crowd.
The other country that could produce more? United States. Mr Biden would not need to beg MBS if he would drop his climate obsessions and unleash US oil production. As they did with the Saudis, the Biden team came to power in 2021 with the goal of turning the US oil and gas industry into a pariah.
It was a catastrophic misjudgment – economically for energy prices, strategically for Europe’s vulnerability to Vladimir Putin and politically for Democrats in the face of angry voters in November. If Mr Biden can meet MBS face to face, why not do the same with US oil and gas executives and promise them new leases on and offshore, faster permits and an end to the regulatory war on pipelines and capital sourcing?
In the private talks in Israel and Saudi Arabia, the big issue is Mr. Biden’s continuing dream of a new nuclear deal with Iran. Its diplomats have been making concessions for 18 months with no positive result. The Saudis and Israelis both understand that Tehran will not stop looking for a bomb with or without a new deal, and they are wary of new US concessions that would give Iran tens of billions of dollars to fund more terrorism in the region. .
The quickest way to improve relations with the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs is to end the diplomatic dance with Iran and return to Mr. Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. We don’t expect that, but Mr. Biden has two and a half long years left in his presidency. They will be better off for him and American interests if he makes more concessions to reality along the way.
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