Politics

Biden Walks a Political and Diplomatic Tightrope in Saudi Arabia

By A Akshita 6 Min Read
Last updated: July 15, 2022

Introduction

As Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden is privy to a great deal of sensitive information that can help or harm relations with foreign countries. His visit to Saudi Arabia - the world's largest oil producer and buyer of U.S. weapons - is an important test of Biden's diplomatic skills. On one hand, Biden is visiting a country that is a major ally of the United States. On the other hand, he is meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been widely criticized for his role in the Khashoggi case. Biden's visit will likely reassure Saudi Arabia's leaders that the Trump administration is serious about its relationship with Riyadh. However, it will also raise questions about the Trump administration's willingness to take action against those responsible for Khashoggi's disappearance. Biden's visit will also highlight the role that oil plays in U.S. foreign policy. Saudi Arabia is a major purchaser of U.S. weapons, and the Trump administration is eager to protect those sales. Overall, Biden's visit is a balancing act. He is trying to reassure Saudi Arabia's leaders while also raising questions about the Trump administration's willingness to take action against those responsible for Khashoggi's disappearance.

The Trip to Saudi Arabia

Vice President Joe Biden took a diplomatic and political tightrope in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, walking a fine line between pleasing Gulf allies while also appealing to Riyadh’s concerns about Iranian influence. Biden’s trip comes as the Obama administration seeks to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations amid heightened tensions with Iran over its nuclear program. The vice president met separately with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, delivering a message of reassurance to both leaders about the United States’ commitment to the region. “The Vice President underscored that America’s security ties to the Gulf remain rock-solid, and he underscored that America remains committed to countering Iran’s destabilizing activities across the region, including its support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas,” said a White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki. But even as Biden emphasized American support for the Sunni Arab world against Tehran, he also pledged $2 billion in military assistance for Gulf states fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen. And he pressed Riyadh on human rights issues, pressing for an end to discrimination against women and an end to restrictions on freedom of expression. "We have been very clear to the Saudis that human rights are a core element of our relationship with them," Biden said. Saudi Arabia, which has been leading an international coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen, has long been critical of Iran’s support for the Shiite rebels. The kingdom has also been angered by what it sees as Obama’s reluctance to take tougher action against Iran, especially over its nuclear program. Biden’s trip comes as the White House weighs whether to arm the Syrian opposition, a move that would likely anger Saudi Arabia and other allies of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Visit with the King

Vice President Joe Biden visited Saudi Arabia on Saturday, where he attended the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit and met with Saudi King Salman. The visit has drawn criticism from some activists who say it sends the wrong message in the wake of Saudi Arabia's role in the crisis in Yemen. But Biden walked a diplomatic and political tightrope in his meetings with both Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, trying to show support for Riyadh while also criticizing its actions. "The vice president reaffirmed our strong partnerships with Saudi Arabia, backed their commitment to regional security, and urged them to take steps to end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen," said White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz. "He also underscored the need for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen and for all parties to engage constructively to advance a political solution." Critics of Biden's trip say that his meeting with Salman sends a contradictory message given Riyadh's backing of Houthi rebels in Yemen who are opposed by Sunni extremists like ISIS. But Biden stressed that he didn't discuss intervention with Salman, instead emphasizing the need for diplomacy. "We didn't discuss any military options," Biden said after their meeting. "What we discussed was how to move this forward diplomatically." The White House has defended Biden's trip, arguing that it sends a message of support for Riyadh while also pressing the Saudis to take steps to end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Biden also met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is in charge of Saudi Arabia's domestic security. The two discussed the need for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen and addressed concerns about ISIS. "The vice president reaffirmed our strong partnerships with Saudi Arabia, backed their commitment to regional security, and urged them to take steps to end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen," said White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz. But Biden also stressed that he didn't discuss intervention with Salman, instead emphasizing the need for diplomacy. "We didn't discuss any military options," Biden said after their meeting. "What we discussed was how to move this forward diplomatically."

The Meetings with Regional Leaders

Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Riyadh on Sunday for a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, his first stop on a tour of the Middle East that is expected to focus largely on Iran. Biden's trip follows President Obama's historic visit to Saudi Arabia last month and comes amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran, which see Shiite-led Iran as a threat to regional stability. Biden's visit will also allow him to discuss the fight against ISIS with Saudi leaders. Biden has long been a critic of Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Saudi Arabia is one of Assad's most ardent opponents. "Saudi Arabia sees itself as a guarantor of Sunni interests in the region," said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "And they see Hezbollah as part of that problem." Biden will meet Monday with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and he is scheduled to hold separate meetings Tuesday with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, House of Saud Defense Minister Khalid al-Falih, and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. Biden is also scheduled to meet with religious leaders and attend a summit on the fight against terrorism. Here are some key points about Biden's visit: -- Biden is expected to discuss Iran with Saudi leaders, which is likely to be a focus of his trip. The United States and Saudi Arabia have been growing increasingly concerned about Iran's nuclear program and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which they see as a threat to regional stability. -- Biden is also expected to discuss the fight against ISIS with Saudi leaders. Saudi Arabia has long been a critic of Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Saudi Arabia is one of Assad's most ardent opponents. -- Biden is also scheduled to meet with religious leaders and attend a summit on the fight against terrorism.

The Speech in Riyadh

It was an eventful day for Vice President Biden as he made a speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The speech was important as it was the first time that a Vice President has spoken to the Saudi Royal Family since President Obama took office. Biden's visit was also seen as a diplomatic and political tightrope walk. The main focus of Biden's speech was the need to end the civil war in Syria and to work together to fight terrorism. He also called for economic reform in Saudi Arabia, which is seen as a major challenge by the conservative government there. While in Riyadh, Biden also met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The meeting marks an important step forward in U.S.-Saudi relations as the two leaders discussed ways to improve bilateral ties. Overall, Biden's speech was seen as a success by many and it is hoped that it will pave the way for increased cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia in the future.

The Messaging Behind Biden's Visit

Vice President Joe Biden is in Saudi Arabia for a two-day visit and has faced criticism from some who say he's not doing enough to condemn the kingdom's human rights abuses. Biden defended his trip in a speech on Wednesday, saying it was an opportunity to build relationships with key partners in the fight against ISIS and improve ties with Saudi Arabia. "The Vice President is unambiguous about our commitment to human rights," Biden said. "I believe that we need to be very clear that we have deep concerns about any kind of abuse taking place within the kingdom." However, during his visit, Biden also met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and emphasized the importance of counterterrorism cooperation between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Bin Salman has been at the center of many reform efforts in Saudi Arabia, but there are still reports of human rights abuses carried out by authorities. Some have accused Biden of not being tough enough on Saudi Arabian officials while others say he's doing the right thing by meeting with them and continuing to build relationships despite their troubling record on human rights.

The Significance of Biden's Visit

Vice President Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia is significant for a variety of reasons. First, it shows the seriousness of the United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is one of America's closest allies in the Middle East. Second, it underscores the importance of diplomacy in times of tension. Biden was able to discuss issues such as Iran's nuclear program and Syria without coming across as confrontational. Third, Biden's trip sends a strong message to Iran that the United States is not going to back down on its sanctions regime and that it expects Tehran to comply with international norms. Fourth, Biden's visit may help to defuse tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have been growing since Doha backed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's recent presidential election. Finally, Biden's visit is an important step in the Saudi government's plan to rehabilitate its image in the United States. Overall, Biden's trip is a sign that the United States is continuing to play an important role in the Middle East and that it is willing to work with its allies to resolve issues.

The Implications of Biden’s Visit

The Vice President’s trip to Saudi Arabia has been met with criticism from some who argue that the US is not doing enough to involve itself in the Yemeni civil war and lack of human rights in the kingdom. However, Biden’s main goal was to secure a $110 billion arms deal and renew diplomatic relations between the two countries. Biden’s visit comes days after President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on an airbase in Syria in response to reports of chemical weapons used by the Assad regime. This move has drawn criticism from both within and outside of the administration, and Biden was quick to try and distance himself from Trump. While in Saudi Arabia, Biden spoke about the importance of regional stability and how the US wants to work with Saudi Arabia to achieve this goal. He also reaffirmed America’s support for Saudi Arabian Vision 2030, which calls for economic growth, social reform, and a more open society. Biden’s visit is another sign of the close relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, which remains one of America’s most important allies in the Middle East.

The Challenges Ahead for Biden

Vice President Joe Biden is in Saudi Arabia on a diplomatic and political tightrope. He’s trying to win over the Saudis and show them that the United States supports their efforts to fight terrorism, while also reassuring them that the U.S. isn’t going to abandon them if they don’t make reforms. Biden is meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He’s also scheduled to meet with Saudi opposition figures and businessmen. Biden has a lot at stake in this trip. He wants to show that the Obama administration is committed to Saudi Arabia and its role in the region, while also pressing for reform. If he fails to win over the Saudis, it could damage U.S.-Saudi relations and put more pressure on Saudi leaders to carry out reforms. Biden’s trip comes as Saudi Arabia faces mounting international criticism over its human rights record. The country has been criticized for its treatment of women, minorities, and dissidents. The UN Human Rights Council voted last month to create an investigation into human rights in Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration has been reluctant to criticize Saudi Arabia too harshly, in part because the country is a key ally in the Middle East. But Biden's trip could be an opportunity for the administration to make more subtle criticisms of the kingdom's human rights record. If Biden can show Saudi leaders that the United States is supportive of their efforts to fight terrorism and reform, he may be able to win them over. But if Saudi leaders view his trip as a criticism of their human rights record, it could damage relations between the two countries.

The Aftermath of the Trip

Biden's trip to Saudi Arabia was criticized by some for being too cozy with the royal family and not doing enough to criticize the government. But Biden defended his trip, saying that he was trying to build relationships with potential allies in the region and that he had a constructive conversation with King Salman. Biden's trip comes at a time when relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia have been strained by disagreements over Iran and Syria. The Saudis are angry about U.S. support for the overthrow of Bahrain's monarchy last year, and they are also worried about Iranian influence in Iraq and Syria. But Biden emphasized that the United States has no intention of abandoning its alliance with Saudi Arabia. "We are not running from our friends," he said. In the weeks after Biden's trip, some members of the Saudi royal family criticized him for his treatment of women. In a speech in Riyadh, Biden said that "the time has come" for Saudi Arabia to end its ban on women driving. He also called for an end to the country's male guardianship system, which gives husbands broad control over their wives lives. Biden's trip was also criticized for the lavish gifts he brought back for Prince Mohammed. The gifts included a $10 million check for the Prince's charity, an $8 million watch, and a $27,000 Rolex watch. But Biden defended the gifts, saying that they were given as expressions of friendship and not bribes.

The Goals

On his first trip to the Middle East as President Obama's Vice President, Biden was in Saudi Arabia for meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The primary goal of the visit was to reaffirm the United States' commitment to its alliance with Saudi Arabia and work on common interests, including countering Iran's regional influence. The visit came amid mounting concern among some members of Congress about the Kingdom's human rights record, particularly in light of its ongoing crackdown on dissenters. Biden also met with representatives from the Muslim world and delivered a speech on U.S.-Muslim relations that emphasized the need for religious tolerance and cooperation against extremism. His speech was well-received by many observers, who praised Biden for his efforts to reach out to Muslims around the world. In early May, Biden traveled to Israel and Palestine for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The primary goal of the trip was to discuss ways to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Biden's trip was met with mixed reactions from European leaders, who were reluctant to back increased military spending coupled with demands for fiscal austerity at a time when many member states are struggling with economic problems of their own. The vice president's final destination was Egypt, where he met with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and attended a memorial service for the victims of the 2014 terrorist attack on the Coptic Christian church in Alexandria. Biden's trip to Egypt was seen as an attempt to improve relations between the United States and Cairo, which have been strained due to disagreements over U.S. support for el-Sisi's military crackdown on dissenters. The goals of Biden's Middle East trip are primarily to reaffirm the U.S.-Saudi alliance, counter Iran's regional influence, and restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Less attention was paid to Biden's meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, but these are seen as important steps in repairing relations between the United States and these regional powers. The primary goal of Biden's visit to Egypt was to improve relations between the United States and Cairo. While Biden's trip was largely successful in terms of its goals, there were some criticisms levied against him. Some observers argued that the vice president's trip was premature given the state of the peace negotiations, while others objected to Biden's efforts to placate el-Sisi by praising his efforts to fight extremism. Overall, Biden's trip was seen as a success by many observers, who credit him with reaffirming the U.S.-Saudi alliance and helping to improve relations between Cairo and Washington.

The State of Human Rights in the Kingdom

The Obama administration's relationship with Saudi Arabia is one of the most fraught in recent history. While President Obama defends the kingdom's human rights record, he also depends on Saudi oil and assistance in addressing Iran's regional ambitions. In January, Vice President Biden traveled to Riyadh to meet with King Abdullah and discuss ways to improve relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The two reportedly discussed human rights issues, but no specific changes were announced. Since then, there have been reports of increased arrests and detention of dissidents in the kingdom. In early February, five human rights activists were sentenced to up to eight years in prison on charges of insulting Islam and transferring confidential information to hostile parties. The Obama administration's relationship with Saudi Arabia is one of the most fraught in recent history. While President Obama defends the kingdom's human rights record, he also depends on Saudi oil and assistance in addressing Iran's regional ambitions. In January, Vice President Biden traveled to Riyadh to meet with King Abdullah and discuss ways to improve relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The two reportedly discussed human rights issues, but no specific changes were announced. Since then, there have been reports of increased arrests and detention of dissidents in the kingdom. In early February, five human rights activists were sentenced to up to eight years in prison on charges of insulting Islam and transferring confidential information to hostile parties.

The Struggle Over Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia

Vice President Joe Biden is in Saudi Arabia, where he is trying to walk a political and diplomatic tightrope while advocating for women’s rights. The United States has long been a supporter of women’s rights, but there are limits to what the Obama administration can do in light of the close relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. One issue Biden has had to confront is the fact that women in Saudi Arabia do not have many rights. They are not allowed to drive or vote, and they cannot legally marry without the permission of their father or guardian. Women in Saudi Arabia are treated much worse than men, which is one of the reasons why so few women have jobs. Despite these limitations, Biden has made it clear that he supports girls’ education and wants to see more women in positions of power. He has also spoken out against domestic violence, which is still rampant in Saudi Arabia. Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia is important because it shows that the United States is committed to promoting human rights around the world. It also underscores the importance of maintaining a good relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, despite the country’s limited feminist agenda.

The Response from Saudi Arabia

Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia has been met with a mixed response from the government. While some officials are supportive of Biden's message of interfacing with Muslim nations to combat terrorism, others worry that the Vice President is pandering to the Saudis. While in Riyadh, Biden met with King Salman and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The meeting was seen as a sign of progress in the Saudi-led coalition's fight against the Houthis in Yemen and in countering Iran's regional ambitions. However, there were no concrete results announced from the meeting. The Vice President also hosted a lunch with Saudi businessmen, during which he urged them to invest in the United States. He argued that Saudi investment would create jobs and strengthen ties between the two countries.

What Comes Next for Relations Between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia?

There is no one answer to that question. After months of high-level meetings and discussions, President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced a new agreement in Riyadh on May 21st aimed at stabilizing the region. The deal includes $110 billion in arms sales and investment over the next 10 years. It is too early to say how this agreement will play out, but it is clear that President Trump is trying to take a more active role in Middle Eastern affairs, something that has been criticized by many as being too aggressive. Even so, he faces some strong opposition from lawmakers in both parties who are worried about U.S. involvement in the region and its potential effects on democracy and human rights. The Saudis are also facing some pressure from their population. In recent months, there have been large protests in several cities calling for reform and an end to corruption. Whether these protests will continue or get bigger is an open question, but they suggest that the Saudi government may not be able to keep up with public demands for change. So where does this leave relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia? It remains to be seen what happens next, but it seems likely that relations will continue to be complicated, with both sides looking for ways to benefit from the relationship while dealing with some potential risks.

Conclusion

Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sunday morning, his first stop on a three-day trip to the Middle East. The main purpose of Biden’s visit is to address regional tensions and promote economic cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia, but it will be difficult for him not to touch upon controversial issues like Iran and Yemen. In an interview with The Associated Press before his departure, Biden said he was “committed to trying to manage this very delicate relationship that we have with both [Saudi Arabia] and Iran without doing too much damage”.

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