Middle Eastern leaders have welcomed the advent of the Biden administration in the US after four destabilising years of its predecessor.
The change of regime in Washington has been greeted positively by Iran in particular. Tehran expects the Biden administration will soon return to the 2015 agreement for dismantling 80 per cent of Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
The new US president repeatedly pledged to resume compliance if Iran does so, while his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani has said Iran will if the US does. For both this is a win-win proposition.
Biden is backed by nominees for secretary of state Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, as well as Democratic legislators. The US president can lift sanctions tied to the nuclear deal but retain others to use as leverage in negotiations over Iran’s regional involvements and human rights abuses.
Iran’s decision to remain in the deal despite the destructive policies pursued by the Trump administration demonstrates that Tehran is ready to comply. It desperately needs to end sanctions on oil sales and international financial transactions to buy equipment, medications and vaccines to contain the spread of coronavirus, which has infected 1.35 million in Iran and killed 57,000.
Ex-president Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and imposition of sanctions while Iran was in full compliance was a lose-lose policy. Iran did not capitulate to his demands and after a year it breached limits on levels of uranium enrichment, stockpiled enriched material, and threatened to halt UN inspections of nuclear sites.
Iran carried out small-scale retaliatory strikes on Gulf shipping and, fearing US or Israeli attack, developed ballistic missiles and stocked conventional weaponry, stirring tensions in the Gulf.
Saudi, Palestinian, Egyptian, Emirati, Lebanese, Qatari and Jordanian leaders have congratulated Biden. Some have tried to impress him with positive moves. Saudi Arabia has reduced executions and prison sentences on dissidents and King Salman has called for peace in Yemen, Syria and Libya.
To exert pressure on Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to end the Yemen war, Biden may have to stem the flow of US arms to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.
He could begin by halting Trump’s sale of F-35 war planes to the latter. Biden will also have to end the ban on contacts with Houthi rebels imposed by the Trump administration’s “terrorist” designation of the rebels before there can be peace talks with the Saudi-sponsored government and deliveries by humanitarian agencies of essential food and medicine.
To court Biden, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt lifted their blockade of Qatar, which they had accused of interfering in their affairs. Qatar responded by urging Gulf states to talk to Iran.
By scheduling long-postponed presidential and parliamentary elections to restore Palestinian democratic legitimacy, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has tried to encourage Biden to press Israel to resume negotiations with the Palestinians.
Israel responded by issuing tenders for 3,280 settler homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians seek to establish their state.