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Friday, August 5, 2022

Biden’s 3 big Middle East misses

President Biden’s trip to the Middle East this week inadvertently underscores the fact that at least three big promises he made before taking office have been abandoned or remain unfulfilled.

Driving the news: The Iran deal hasn’t been restored, Biden is heading to the country he vowed to make a “pariah,” and the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem is still closed.

1. Restoring the Iran deal

The Iran nuclear deal is still in tatters despite the fact that restoring it was arguably candidate Biden’s only first-tier policy objective toward the region.

Standing alongside acting Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday, Biden pledged not to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, while noting that he still hoped to resolve the crisis diplomatically.

  • With talks stalled, Iran has continued to accelerate its nuclear activity. Biden’s aides have been insisting for months that the window to salvage the deal is closing. It’s not clear what exactly plan B might entail.
  • Biden has taken flak from advocates of the deal for declining to invest much political capital into saving it and for refusing to meet Iran’s demand to lift Donald Trump’s largely symbolic terror designation for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
  • Biden said Thursday that the U.S. offer to re-enter the deal was already on the table, while warning Tehran “we’re not going to wait forever.”
2. Making Saudi Arabia a “pariah”

Biden’s Saudi stop stands in stark contrast to his campaign trail promise to make the kingdom a “pariah” over its human rights abuses, particularly the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Asked today if he’d raise Khashoggi with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Biden demurred but said his position on the murder was “so clear” that everyone understood it.

  • Biden’s initial refusal to engage directly with the crown prince — and the release of an intelligence report blaming MBS for Khashoggi’s murder — appears to have hampered the administration’s efforts to convince Riyadh to increase its oil output.
  • Biden has clearly calculated that it’s worth making a controversial visit in order to reset relations, though many progressives disagree.
3. Opening the consulate in Jerusalem

Biden promised a far more positive reset in relations with the Palestinians, including a key commitment to reopen the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem that served as the U.S. diplomatic mission to the Palestinian Authority until Trump closed it in 2019.

  • But the leaders of Israel’s fragile coalition (which recently collapsed) warned the Biden administration that reopening the consulate would be a political bombshell in Israel and help bring former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back to power.

  • Biden has taken a number of steps to restore aid to the Palestinians and rebuild a relationship that cratered under Trump, but he’s left the consulate pledge unfulfilled. The Palestinian leadership has very low expectations for Biden’s visit to the occupied West Bank tomorrow.

One promise Biden didn’t make was progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

  • The process that preoccupied so many of Biden’s predecessors is completely stagnant, due primarily to Israeli politics.
  • It hardly featured on Biden’s agenda in Israel and was only addressed in vague terms in Thursday’s “Jerusalem Declaration” on U.S.-Israel relations.

What’s next: After meetings with Israeli leaders on Thursday and Palestinian leaders on Friday, Biden will fly to Saudi Arabia to meet the king and crown prince and attend a summit with regional leaders.

What to watch: The Israeli government on Thursday approved the parameters of a deal around two strategic Red Sea islands that will pave the way for Saudi Arabia to take steps toward normalizing relations with Israel, Axios’ Barak Ravid scoops.

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