Analysis & Opinions - The National Interest

A Middle East Forum Can Help Biden Succeed

| Jan. 27, 2021

Just days into his term and with many urgent priorities, President Joe Biden has yet to outline his overarching strategy for the Middle East. While some in the United States and abroad fret that Biden’s America will disengage from the region and create vacuums that adversaries will exploit the greater likelihood is that the new administration will neither be leaving nor leading in the Middle East. The United States will continue to be present and powerful in the region, though much more selective in its engagement. Biden’s administration clearly sees its most pressing regional priority as returning the United States to the 2015 nuclear accord with Teheran, conditioned on Iranian compliance. Biden has also spoken of wanting additional negotiations to address Iran’s regional activities, as well as addressing the war in Yemen and advancing Arab-Israeli peace.

Biden and his top advisors have made it abundantly clear that their number one task is to restore international partnerships and see America’s friends play a greater role in taking on global and regional challenges. The new president also recognizes that his goals for the region will be impossible for Washington to achieve alone. This should be welcome news to the region, where the Arabs states and Israel have long resented their exclusion from the 2015 nuclear agreement brokered between world powers with Iran. America’s friends in Europe and the Middle East now have a unique opportunity to have a greater say in their own region’s affairs and to initiate new cooperative approaches to their strife-torn region. 

There is, however, a fundamental problem facing future efforts to forge trans-Atlantic and multilateral cooperative approaches towards the Middle East: there are no clear existing and agreed-upon ways to do so. In each instancebe it the efforts forged to address war and conflict in Syria, Libya, or Yemenprecious time and diplomatic effort was squandered simply by establishing the venue, format, and participation for the talks rather than dealing with the actual disputes. Moreover, each one has been only partially inclusive, leaving critical stakeholders and spoilers outside.

What is most needed to tackle issues in the Middle East is a broad, all-inclusive standing regional forum encompassing all of its countries in one location. Such a venue, not unlike the UN’s General Assembly, could serve as a focal point, located inside the Middle East, and dedicated to addressing their region’s issues and providing a voice for its countries in their neighborhood’s affairs.

This Middle East forum should convene under the auspices of a respected international figure, such as the UN secretary-general or his designee. While it would welcome participation by all the region’s countries, participation would not imply or require recognition or relations among its members. Thus, adversaries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israelwould all have a rightful place at the table.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Rouhi, Mahsa and Robert M. Danin.“A Middle East Forum Can Help Biden Succeed.” The National Interest, January 27, 2021.