Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, for his part, is also well-known and respected in the Middle East, and over the years he too has cultivated strong bonds and relationships throughout the region. Indeed, Biden welcomed the Abraham Accords and, if elected, pledged to expand on them. Among the many differences with Trump is that as president, Biden would be more likely to convey increasing Democratic congressional concerns about human rights and related issues in dealing with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE, including arms sales for the war in Yemen, as Adam Lucente reports here. Trump has been less inclined to raise those issues in his dealings with the region’s leaders, preferring to keep the focus solely on strategic and commercial transactions.
No surprise that Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif belittled the wave of diplomatic openings as a campaign photo-op, adding that White House Senior Adviser and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner had blackmailed “regional clients” to sign the deals. A few weeks ago, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei referred to Kushner as “the Jew in the Trump family” and one of the “dirty elements in the United States” who is acting “against the interests of the Islamic world,” as we report here.
“Iran is suffering.” Trump views his decision to withdraw from the Iran deal in May 2018 was one of his foreign policy successes. For Biden, Trump’s decision to undercut collective diplomacy in containing Iran’s nuclear program has made the region more dangerous.
Trump expects a deal with Iran after the elections, whether he or Biden wins the election. “Iran is suffering,” he said. “I don’t want them to suffer…And I think they want to make a deal, but they’d much rather deal with Sleepy Joe Biden than me, because, you know, we’re going to make a deal, and I’ll make a very fair deal. And I even suggested, ‘Wait until after the election. Make yourself feel good. Wait until after the election.’ But I think right after our election — the American election — if we win, we’ll have a deal with Iran.”
The next deal with Iran: Expect Israel, as well as the Arab Gulf states, to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the US when a new Iran deal is discussed. Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer told us last month the Iran deal was a “failed experiment” from Israel’s perspective. Dermer said Israel could, however, support an Iran deal that includes “removal of centrifuges, essential to making weapons-grade fissile material; an end to all uranium enrichment; and shutting down all heavy water facilities, which can be used in a weapons program.” The pursuit of civil nuclear power without enrichment is also advocated by the UAE as “the gold standard” for nuclear agreements.
One country that doesn’t seem to be in the queue for normalization is Qatar, which has been the target of an embargo by the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt since 2017.
“We don’t think that normalization was the core of this conflict and hence it can’t be the answer,” Assistant Foreign Minister and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lolwah Alkhater said this week. “The core of this conflict is about the drastic conditions that the Palestinians are living under” as “people without a country, living under occupation.”
US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue. Despite Qatar’s hanging back on normalization, US-Qatar relations are nonetheless strong. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo kicked off the US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue on Monday by praising Qatar’s “tireless support” for helping broker peace in Afghanistan and “invaluable role in helping stabilize Gaza, as well as regional efforts to de-escalate tensions both in Syria and in Lebanon.” The Qatari delegation was led by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
AJ+ gets tagged as foreign agent. In the timing is everything category, the Department of Justice tagged AJ+, an affiliate of the Qatari-funded Al Jazeera. to register as a foreign agent. Al Jazeera blamed the UAE for making the designation a condition of the peace deal, which UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al-Otaiba denied, informing the New York Times that “at no point in our discussions was Al Jazeera or even Qatar raised.”
Good news for workers. Qatar has introduced new labor reforms to align with human rights and better living standards for migrant workers in the run up to the World Cup, potentially setting a new regional standard in labor relations. Sabena Siddiqui has the report here.
Healing the rift? Last week US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker said that there had been “some movement” in repairing the breach in Qatar’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, that the US was “detecting a little more flexibility” and that he would like to say there could be progress in “a matter of weeks.”
Now that signing ceremony is over, writes Ben Caspit, Netanyahu returns to Israel “to reap the benefits while depriving his partners and rivals of any credit and leveraging US President Donald Trump’s achievement. In the coronavirus arena, he is trying to spread the blame in every direction, accusing the political left and the news media, trying to embellish his own actions and promising Israelis full economic compensation and a bright future. His incredible political skills have convinced a significant number of Israelis of this alternate reality.”