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Biden’s Middle East Policy Tied to Fate of Tehran Negotiations

Biden’s Middle East Policy Tied to Fate of Tehran Negotiations

Wednesday, 20 January, 2021 - 11:45
US President-elect Joe Biden speaks to reporters following an online meeting with members of the National Governors Association (NGA) executive committee in Wilmington, Delaware, US, November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

US President-elect Joe Biden’s policy towards the Middle East region will not crystallize in the first months of his term, as observers agree that his current priorities are now directed at the US interior.

However, Biden will gradually begin to tackle the region’s outstanding files, mainly the relations with Tehran, especially as he had announced that he would return to the nuclear agreement and lift the sanctions on Iran if it “strictly” adhered to the international deal.

Former diplomats, who have worked in Washington with successive US administrations, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the fate of negotiations with Tehran would largely determine the course of the region’s files.

In this regard, former Lebanese ambassador to Washington, Riad Tabbara, noted that Biden’s statements during his election campaign, “all confirm that, unlike his predecessor, he will adopt a policy of openness to the Middle East region and to all of Washington’s old allies, whether in Europe or elsewhere.”

The nuclear agreement with Tehran is likely to be expanded to meet America’s ambitions, Tabbara said, adding that several provisions would be reviewed, including the annulment of the 10-year deadline, during which Iran could not produce a nuclear bomb, to be replaced by a permanent agreement without a time limit.

The second provision, according to Tabbara, will see the inclusion of the ballistic missile program and other matters that were not covered by the agreement during the era of former US President Barack Obama. As for the third item, it will pertain to organizing Iran’s relationship with neighboring countries and with pro-Tehran militias, mainly the Houthis, the Popular Mobilization Forces, and Hezbollah.

For his part, former Lebanese ambassador to the US Abdallah Bouhabib stressed that Biden would focus on the internal situation in the US, “where conditions are not good at all levels, whether in terms of the coronavirus pandemic, the economic situation or civil peace.”

“Since Biden was the vice president of Barack Obama, and a large part of his current team was among Obama’s team, there is no doubt that his policy towards the Middle East will be influenced to some extent by Obama’s policy,” Bouhabib underlined.

Former Lebanese Ambassador to Washington Antoine Shedid agreed with Bouhabib, but stressed that the reality on the ground has changed in recent years.

“The region as a whole has changed, whether in the series of normalization agreements between Arab countries and Israel or with regard to Iran’s continuous interference in the region’s affairs,” Shedid said, adding: “All these are files that Biden will have to take into account while formulating his policies for the region.”

The British Times had ruled out that Biden would reverse the policies implemented by President Donald Trump on many of the main files in the Middle East, especially Palestine, Iran, and Syria. It said that Biden was likely to adhere to Trump’s policies, continue to increasingly neglect the region, and focus on other challenges.

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