During the meetings, aides say the president is looking to set expectations about the U.S. role in the region as he looks to prevent Russia and China from taking a bigger foothold.
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — As President Joe Biden sits down with Middle Eastern leaders on Saturday, he is expected to discuss ways to counter the growing nuclear threat posed by Iran and efforts to improve relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Biden plans to meet one-on-one with the heads of Egypt, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates before attending a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Following the meetings, he is scheduled to fly back to Washington.
Biden is looking to set expectations at the summit about the role he envisions for the U.S. in the Middle East and his desire to avoid letting Russia and China increase their influence in the region, senior administration officials said. He has noted that his visit to the Middle East is the first by an American president in 20 years when the U.S. hasn’t had troops engaged in a combat mission there.
“He’s intent on ensuring that there is not a vacuum in the Middle East for China and Russia to fill, that American leadership and an American engagement will be a feature of U.S. policy in this region, and that we intend to play a critical role in this strategically vital region on an ongoing basis,” Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan said in a briefing with reporters on Friday.
The summit will cap Biden’s first Middle East trip as president, during which he also met with Israeli, Palestinian and Saudi leaders. While Biden was able to help move along some incremental steps during the trip towards improving relations in the region — like a decision by Saudi Arabia to open its air space to flights to and from Israel — he acknowledged that more broader changes will take time.
The president is expected to leave the trip without any concrete commitments from the Gulf states on increasing oil production, something that could have helped him with his top domestic issue of inflation.
The trip has become a source of controversy back home due in part to Biden’s decision to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man the U.S. intelligence community concluded was behind the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
During his meetings today with Gulf leaders, Biden is expected to discuss “tighter coordination and collaboration” around Iran along with energy and digital infrastructure investments in the Middle East, Sullivan said.
During Biden’s trip to Israel earlier this week he said that he would also discuss with the Gulf leaders Israel’s desire to move towards normalizing relations with more countries in the region, similar to steps it has already taken with Morocco, the UAE, and Bahrain.