Opinion | Biden, Iran, and the Crown Prince
President Biden visits Saudi Arabia this weekend to meet with Gulf Arab leaders, including the Saudi crown prince he once vowed to isolate. America’s left is giving the President grief for meeting with
Mohammed bin Salman,
the erstwhile “pariah,” but realpolitik has its demands. The U.S. needs a better relationship with the Saudis for regional security as much as for oil.
The trip so far is proving to be good news on more than one front. On his stop in Israel, Mr. Biden showed little of the hostility toward the Jewish state that so marked President
tenure. Mr. Obama and his Secretary of State,
wasted years and political capital trying to force a Palestinian-Israel solution that had no chance of happening as long as Hamas and other radicals swear to destroy Israel. The Biden White House isn’t giving up hope, but it has other priorities.
One of those, believe it or not, seems to be building on
2020 Abraham Accords that marked a breakthrough in diplomatic relations between Israel and some Arab states. Saudi Arabia hasn’t joined the accords, but events are moving in that direction. Israel on Thursday approved a diplomatic deal over two islands in the Red Sea that could pave the way for the normalization of Saudi-Israeli relations. Team Biden has to its credit quietly played a role in the talks.
The Saudi visit will be trickier business. The President is having to defend his meeting with the crown prince, known as MBS, despite what the CIA says was his complicity in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Mr. Biden tried to punish MBS upon taking office, ending support for the Saudi war in Yemen, stopping an arms sale, and firing up new talks with Saudi adversaries in Iran over a nuclear deal.
Now he’s having to take most of that back as he beseeches the Saudis to expand oil production. Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that has excess production capacity, though not enough to cause a big decline in the oil price that is now about $96 a barrel. The world’s spare oil suppliers these days are the Saudis, Iran and Venezuela, and the Saudis are St. Francis of Assisi in that crowd.
The other country that could produce more? The United States. Mr. Biden wouldn’t need to beg MBS if he shed his climate obsessions and unleashed American oil production. As it did with the Saudis, Team Biden came to office in 2021 wanting to turn the U.S. oil and gas industry into a pariah.
That was a catastrophic misjudgment—economically for energy prices, strategically for Europe’s vulnerability to
and politically for Democrats as they face angry voters in November. If Mr. Biden can meet face to face with MBS, why not do the same with U.S. oil and gas executives and promise them new leases on and offshore, faster permits, and an end to the regulatory war on pipelines and the supply of capital?
In the private talks in Israel and Saudi Arabia, the big issue is Mr. Biden’s continued dream of a new nuclear deal with Iran. His diplomats have been making concessions for 18 months to no good result. The Saudis and Israelis both understand that Tehran won’t stop seeking a bomb with or without a new deal, and they are wary of new U.S. concessions that would hand Iran tens of billions of dollars to finance more terrorism in the region.
The fastest way to better relations with the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs is to call an end to the diplomatic dance with Iran and return to Mr. Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. We don’t expect that, but Mr. Biden has two-and-a-half long years left in his Presidency. They’ll go better for him and U.S. interests if he makes more concessions to reality along the way.
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Appeared in the July 15, 2022, print edition.