President Joe Biden makes a four-day trip to the Middle East this coming week where he will meet leaders of the region to discuss a long list of issues including regional security, Iran, Israeli-Palestinian relations and global economic and energy dynamics, among other issues. What can we expect from this visit, and how might it impact trends within the region and the impact the Middle East has on broader geopolitical dynamics.
Please join this online panel discussion with leading Middle East Institute experts analyzing what to anticipate from this trip.
Senior Fellow and Director, Program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs
Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Defense and Security Program
Director, Iran Program; Senior Fellow, Frontier Europe Initiative
Senior Fellow and Director, Program on Economics and Energy
Brian Katulis, moderator
Vice President of Policy and Senior Fellow
Five Key Takeaways
- President Biden should focus on energy security over oil production: Karen Young recommended that President Biden should not ask Saudi Arabia to break with its OPEC+ partners and exhaust global spare capacity. Rather, the United States should focus on building a long-term energy partnership with the Gulf states to meet the broader needs of an emerging-market energy transition. However, this is an unlikely scenario since the trip agenda will likely focus on security matters.
- The United States must remain consistent in its regional partnerships: Mick Mulroy argued that human rights should be an integral aspect of American foreign policy. In order to protect human rights on an international scale, the United States must remain a consistent partner to its foreign allies, including Saudi Arabia. This imperative has become more important as Russia and China continue to expand their reach in the Middle East.
- The Biden visit will uphold the status quo in Palestine and Israel: Khaled Elgindy explained that President Biden has not done enough to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution for Palestine and Israel and that the Palestinian leg of Biden’s visit is ancillary. Biden has made little breaks with the Trump administration’s Palestine-Israel policy. On the other hand, the Israel leg is central to the trip since Israeli regional integration is one of Biden’s main goals.
- Iran does not hold high expectations for Biden’s visit: Alex Vatanka described that Tehran does not expect that Biden’s visit will result in the creation of a Middle Eastern NATO with Iran as its key nemesis, nor that the Arab Gulf states will become direct participants of the nuclear negotiations. However, Tehran feels threatened by the prospect of a U.S.-led integrated defense system and will lash out if the idea gains traction.
- Normalization is on the agenda, but don't expect major steps this visit: The scholars concurred that a key goal of the trip is to push normalization with Israel in the region, especially in pursuit of a collaborative security system. Young explained that there are already major regional initiatives including Israel on the energy front, especially regarding Eastern Mediterranean gas. Vatanka assured that Iran will not cut its budding relationships with Saudi Arabia and the UAE if normalization with Israel progresses further. However, it is unlikely that any formal commitments will materialize.
Detailed Speaker Bios
Khaled Elgindy is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute where he also directs MEI’s Program on Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs. He is the author of the newly-released book, Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump, published by Brookings Institution Press in April 2019. Elgindy previously served as a fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution from 2010 through 2018. Prior to arriving at Brookings, he served as an adviser to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on permanent status negotiations with Israel from 2004 to 2009, and was a key participant in the Annapolis negotiations of 2007-08. Elgindy is also an adjunct instructor in Arab Studies at Georgetown University.
Michael “Mick” Patrick Mulroy is the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. Mulroy is a retired paramilitary operations officer (PMOO) from the Central Intelligence Agency. His previous assignments include: chief of department in Special Activities Center (formerly Special Activities Division), chief of station of an overseas country, chief of expeditionary team in a warzone country, chief of base in a warzone country, deputy chief of a Branch in Special Activities Division (SAD), a PMOO in a branch in SAD and several other overseas and headquarters positions. His awards include the Intelligence Star, the Intelligence Commendation Medal, the Career Intelligence Medal and the National Intelligence Exceptional Achievement Medal, among others.
Alex Vatanka is the founding Director of the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute. He specializes in Middle Eastern regional security affairs with a particular focus on Iran. He was formerly a Senior Analyst at Jane’s Information Group in London. Alex is also a Senior Fellow in Middle East Studies at the US Air Force Special Operations School (USAFSOS) at Hurlburt Field and teaches as an Adjunct Professor at DISAS at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He has testified before the US Congress and lectured widely for both governmental and commercial audiences, including the US Departments of State and Defense, US intelligence agencies, and a list of international corporations.
Karen E. Young is a senior fellow and founding director of the Program on Economics and Energy at the Middle East Institute. She was a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, focusing on the political economy of the Middle East and the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. She has taught courses on the international relations and economy of the Middle East at George Washington University and at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She regularly teaches at the US Department of State Foreign Service Institute. Before joining AEI, she served as senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, a research and visiting fellow at the Middle East Centre of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and an assistant professor of political science at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE. She was twice awarded a Fulbright fellowship, first to Ecuador and later to Bulgaria.
Brian Katulis is a senior fellow and vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute. He was formerly a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), where he built the Center’s Middle East program and also worked on broader issues related to U.S. national security. He has produced influential studies that have shaped important discussions around regional policy, often providing expert testimony to key congressional committees on his findings. Katulis has also conducted extensive research in countries such as Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories. His past experience includes work at the National Security Council and the U.S. Departments of State and Defense.
Photo by Uriel Sinai via Getty Images