Destabilizing speculation

Biden needs Saudi oil. What does Riyadh want in return?

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, which covers US President Joe Biden’s planned trip to Saudi Arabia, the third meeting of the Contact Group on Ukraine and other news to follow from around the world.

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US President Joe Biden ended speculation about his planned trip to Saudi Arabia by confirming on Tuesday that it will indeed go ahead, with the president due to make the trip as part of a July 13-July 16 tour that includes stops in Israel and the Bank of the West.

Biden is set to make the trip despite outcry from human rights groups and figures within his own party, who have argued that a presidential visit gives tacit blessing to human rights abuses. Saudi Arabia.

For Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, the trip is akin to “putting a cheap band-aid on the gaping wound that has become the US-Saudi relationship.”

“Obviously, America should work to build a healthier relationship with Saudi Arabia, but that’s just not possible. unless and until the United States faces the deep dysfunction at the heart of this relationship – a dysfunction defined by the fact that the United States has turned a blind eye to Saudi support for jihadist terrorism, the spread of Wahhabism and its other destabilizing activities in the region,” Parsi wrote in an emailed statement.

Biden’s visit is a regression from his vow to make Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah’ on the campaign trail and clashes with moves early in his presidency to freeze arms sales and withdraw US support to the war in Yemen.

Yet the thaw was coming even before oil prices rose, with Washington quietly welcoming the crown prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, this time last year.

Despite the White Houseit is olive branches, disgust at the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents (a murder, according to the US intelligence community, was committed on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman), still reverberates in Washington . This was recently manifested in the inauguration of Jamal Khashoggi Way, the new name of the street that the Saudi Embassy calls home.

Like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before him, Biden is trading harsh rhetoric for appeasement, hoping that a sufficient show of rapprochement will convince the previously shunned crown prince to bless an increase in oil production to help calm global prices. oil – as well as reducing the price of American gasoline.

As the U.S. midterm elections approached, domestic economic concerns took priority for the Biden administration, and it began to attack domestic energy companies for profiting amid price pressure. “Exxon has made more money than God this year,” Biden said Friday following a speech about his plans to contain inflation.

While it’s clear why Biden needs Saudi Arabia right now, it’s less clear why Saudi Arabia needs Biden, with high oil prices helping to bail out Saudi government coffers.

This is all the more apparent as the Saudis may, if the polls are accurate, simply wait for Biden to exit. The second half of Biden’s presidential term is expected to be even more deadlocked than the first, with Republicans likely to take control of the House of Representatives, if not the Senate, in November. (That has its own foreign policy implications, as American Enterprise Institute fellow Danielle Pletka explored last week.)

A second term for former US President Donald Trump in 2024, a distinct possibility, would be icing on the cake for Riyadh, which would expect none of the friction that defined the US-Saudi relationship under Biden.

Despite huge military investments, however, security remains a major concern for the Saudis, and an explicit US commitment to defense would provide the quid pro quo the kingdom expects from Washington.

“One thing after another has shaken their faith that the cavalry will come, and they want more than words that will convince them that we are committed to their safety,” said Middle East expert Steven Cook. at the Council on Foreign Relations (and FP columnist), said Foreign Police.

It likely won’t be a one-way street, with Cook expecting Biden to push Saudi Arabia for commitments on two tough issues to provide him political cover with Congress: improving his human rights record man and his ties to Israel.

If Biden’s trip is solely based on increasing production, it may end up being a waste, with a tight oil market leaving little slack.

“The fact is, there’s not a whole lot more oil in Saudi Arabia and the UAE to really change the market in any meaningful way,” said Daniel Yergin, oil historian and vice president of S&P Global. Bloomberg. “The supply situation is so slim.”

Janan Ganesh, writing in the FinancialTimes, said now is the time for Biden to make the trip and ditch a simplistic democracy versus framing autocracy while he’s at it. “The West is locked in a struggle against two specific autocracies. Not, as some claim, against autocracy,writes Ganesh. “The challenge from Russia and China (US Republicans would name Iran third) is daunting enough without volunteering for a showdown with a full mode of government.”


What we follow today

The Ukrainian group reunites. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hosts the third meeting of the Ukraine Contact Group, made up of countries supporting Ukraine’s defense, on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of defense ministers from the Ukraine NATO in Brussels. The meeting comes days after Ukrainian officials released a wish list of military equipment they want Western partners to provide as Ukraine continues to fight Russian forces in the east of the country.

The EU is preparing Northern Ireland’s response. The European Commission is set to publish its response to the UK after the British government published a bill that would unilaterally change the Northern Ireland protocol to the Brexit deal. EU officials have already threatened legal action over the proposed changes, which they say violate international law.

UK-Rwanda deportation flight. The first deportation flight from the UK to Rwanda was due to depart on Tuesday evening after numerous unsuccessful domestic legal challenges; the start was canceled at the last minute after the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hinted on Tuesday that he would seek to leave the European Convention on Human Rights to prevent future flights from being obstructed by the court. “The legal world is very good at finding ways to try to stop the government from enforcing what we think is sensible law,” he said.


Keep an eye on

Peace talks in Ethiopia. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday announced the formation of a new committee to continue peace talks with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) more than 18 months after the start of the conflict. In a letter published on Tuesday, the TPLF said it supported a “credible, impartial and principled peace process”.

WHO to meet on monkeypox. The World Health Organization will convene an emergency panel of experts on June 23 to discuss whether to declare the spread of monkeypox an international health emergency. Ibrahima Socé Fall, WHO’s emergency director for Africa, said the meeting was not meant to cause alarm. “We don’t want to wait until the situation is out of control to start calling the emergency committee,” he said. So far this year, more than 1,600 cases and almost 1,500 suspected cases have been reported in 39 countries.


Denmark and Canada finally ended a nearly 50-year border dispute on Tuesday, agreeing to divide Hans Island, a 0.5-square-mile island roughly equidistant from the coasts of Canada and Greenland. between.

The barren rock had become the site of the so-called Whiskey Wars, with Canadian and Danish forces planting flags (and bottles of Canadian whiskey or Danish schnapps) to mark their territory over the years.

“I think it was the most friendly of all wars,” said Mélanie Joly, Canada’s foreign minister, on Tuesday. “I am happy to see that we are solving it with friends, partners and allies. … It’s a win-win-win.