U.S. involvement needed for regional stability

Efforts to stabilize the Middle East are increasingly important to contain soaring crude oil prices — a result of the Ukraine crisis — and their impact on the global economy. The United States should continue its involvement in the region and prevent Russia from expanding its influence there.

U.S. President Joe Biden has visited Israel and Saudi Arabia in his first trip to the Middle East since taking office. It is undeniable that the Middle East had become a lower priority for the United States as Washington was busy dealing with China and Russia.

In talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the real power in that country, Biden expressed his hope that the major oil-producing nation would take steps to increase its oil production in the coming weeks. Biden reversed his position of giving Saudi Arabia the cold shoulder over human rights issues and emphasized his stance of seeking stronger ties with that nation.

Last year, the Biden administration acknowledged the involvement of the crown prince in the killing of a Saudi journalist who was critical of the crown prince in Turkey in 2018, sparking a backlash from Saudi Arabia.

This time, Biden sought to repair relations with Saudi Arabia by turning a blind eye to human rights issues, because gasoline prices are soaring in the United States and it is urgent in terms of domestic policy to stabilize the crude oil market.

Saudi Arabia is in a position to guide the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. It is hoped that Saudi Arabia will play a role in urging OPEC+, which consists of the members of OPEC nations plus nonmembers such as Russia, to boost production.

Saudi Arabia regards itself as the leader of the Arab world and had previously been hostile to Israel, but in recent years it has been moving to normalize relations with Israel, as they share the common goal of containing the threat posed by Iran.

As long as the United States has limited energy to devote to the Middle East, Washington needs to encourage such moves and bring stability to the region.

If Israel and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf work together to create a new framework for security cooperation, the United States could reduce its military burden in the Middle East and concentrate its troops and budget on China and Russia.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited Iran and expressed his willingness to expand cooperation. This is his first overseas trip aside from countries that were part of the former Soviet bloc since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Because Iran is also under severe sanctions from the United States over its nuclear development program, Russia and Iran may think that they share the same interests.

Russia has shaken the U.S.-led regional order by intervening in the Syrian civil war. The invasion of Ukraine is also an extension of this. Rather than joining forces with Russia in an “anti-American” manner, Iran should severely criticize Russia’s aggression for violating international law.

Regional stability is also important for Japan, which relies on the Middle East for about 90% of its crude oil imports. Japan must continue to urge Iran to refrain from cooperating with Russia and to stop its nuclear development program.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 21, 2022)