U.S.-Gulf Relations

The Middle East Policy Council held its 109th Capitol Hill Conference virtually on Friday, July 29, 2022, on the topic “U.S.-Gulf Relations.” The panelists addressed President Biden’s recent trip to the Middle East, specifically offering analysis on efforts and developments in energy and diplomacy.

Richard J. Schmierer (former U.S. Ambassador to Oman; President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council) introduced the event and Bassima Alghussein (Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council) was the moderator. The panelists were: Mr. Daniel Benaim (Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arabian Peninsula Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State); Ms. Laura Lochman (Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy, Bureau of Energy Resources, U.S. Department of State); Dr. Karen Young (Senior Fellow and Director of the Program on Economics and Energy, Middle East Institute); Ambassador Chas Freeman (Senior Fellow, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs; Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Board Member, Middle East Policy Council); and The Honorable Jim Moran (Senior Policy Advisor, Nelson Mullins; Former Congressman (VA-8); Board Member, Middle East Policy Council).

Deputy Assistant Secretary Benaim began the discussion by highlighting the enduring strategic importance of the Middle East and the Gulf region, citing in particular the major role played by Gulf States in the evacuation of over 100,000 people from Afghanistan almost one year ago. DAS Benaim reiterated President Biden’s five pillars for a U.S. approach to the region: partnerships, deterrence, diplomacy, integration, and values. He noted the newfound openness of several countries to reach across old rivalries and divides, recognizing the seventeen weeks of truce in Yemen and efforts to find a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear challenge, while ensuring the country does not acquire nuclear weapons.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Lochman highlighted the global energy security issue, clean energy transition, and regional energy partnerships and integration. She identified the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as key contributors to recent energy price volatility and welcomed Saudi Arabia’s role in achieving consensus among members of OPEC+ to secure an increase in production quotas throughout July and August. In tandem with energy stabilization efforts, DAS Lochman emphasized the need to pursue clean energy transition and underscored successes during the President's meetings in Jeddah, such as the finalization of a partnership framework for advancing clean energy. DAS Lochman indicated that all of the U.S.’s Gulf partners have signed the Global Methane Pledge, with Qatar and Saudi Arabia also joining the Net Zero Producers Forum (NPF). Regarding regional partnerships and integration, the GCC+3 meeting in Jeddah cemented the GCCIA Interconnection Agreement, a landmark agreement between Iraq and the GCC interconnection authority designed to mitigate Iraq’s chronic electricity shortages.

Dr. Young identified key takeaways from President Biden’s trip to the region, including collaboration within the framework of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment, the Saudi-U.S. Bilateral Framework for Clean Energy Cooperation, and the I2U2 Initiative (involving India, Israel, the U.S. and the UAE). She noted that oil markets have been dominating our attention on the Gulf and, in response, acknowledged that an upcoming recession would decrease oil demand, which would ease markets. Dr. Young argued that the U.S. and President Biden have an opportunity to take a long-term view with Saudi Arabia and the UAE on future energy security needs. She proposed that it may be natural gas, more than oil, that defines how U.S. foreign policy sees the Middle East and future security partnerships.

Ambassador Freeman began his remarks by emphasizing the undeniable connection between U.S. domestic politics and U.S. foreign policy, noting that President Biden traveled to Israel, the only country in the world where Donald Trump’s popularity exceeds his own. Biden also visited Saudi Arabia, supplier of one-sixth of the world’s exported oil, an in-demand resource. Amb. Freeman also pointed out that both Israel and Saudi Arabia recognize that no other great power intends to take up American defense burdens in the region. Many factors, he continued, dictate a sound American relationship with Saudi Arabia, including airspace transit permission, counterterrorism efforts, and military sales. Amb. Freeman expressed concern that current U.S. policies toward Iran invite it to emulate North Korea (i.e., acquire a nuclear weapon as a deterrent), and noted the mass confrontation among U.S., Russian, Turkish, Iranian, Lebanese, and Syrian forces in Syria, continuing Iraqi instability, and attempts by many regional players to reduce their strategic overdependence on the United States.

Congressman Moran underscored the conflict in U.S. foreign policy between American values and American interests and, regarding the U.S. role on the world stage, posed the question: “Have we really seized the opportunity that the rest of the world wants us to?” The Congressman questioned the productivity of President Biden’s trip to the region, citing perceptions that the U.S. is weak and stressing that meetings with select regional leaders do not sufficiently respond to the aspirations and needs of the approximately 600 million people in the Middle East and North Africa. Congressman Moran also cited key global and regional issues, including food insecurity caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine, and he alluded to the conceivability of a worldwide economic depression. He concluded by emphasizing the heightened importance of U.S. moral leadership at this unique point in time.

(Image: The White House)

Mr. Daniel Benaim

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arabian Peninsula Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State

 

Ms. Laura Lochman

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy, Bureau of Energy Resources, U.S. Department of State

 

Dr. Karen Young

Senior Fellow and Director of Program on Economics and Energy, Middle East Institute 

 

Ambassador Chas Freeman

Senior Fellow, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Board Member, Middle East Policy Council

 

Congressman Jim Moran

Senior Policy Advisor, Nelson Mullins

Former Congressman (VA-8)

Board Member, Middle East Policy Council