Published:  10:18 AM, 18 March 2023

US leadership role in Middle East facing deep challenges

US leadership role in Middle East facing deep challenges

China's shock success at bringing
Saudi Arabia and Iran together has challenged the United States' longstanding
role as the key outside power broker in the Middle East.

Beijing's persuading archrivals Riyadh and Tehran to reestablish diplomatic
relations upstaged the United States just as Washington appears powerless to
intervene in the political tensions in Israel over the Netanyahu government's
sharp-right turn, which has inflamed Palestinians.

"Anything that can help reduce tensions, avoid conflict and deter in any way
dangerous and destabilizing actions by Iran is a good thing," US Secretary of
State Antony Blinken said Wednesday on the Saudi-Iran deal announced on March

US officials have tried to minimize Beijing's role in the region, saying it
is far from supplanting the United States: much of the Middle East still sits
under the Pentagon's security umbrella.

But China's breakthrough is a real challenge, as Washington remains deeply
preoccupied with the Ukraine war and, over the long term, with blunting
Beijing's diplomatic and military advance in the Indo-Pacific region.

James Ryan, Director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy
Research Institute, said Washington is happy if anyone can contribute to
Middle East regional stability, even rival China.

"The Biden administration has very clearly said that when it comes to the
Middle East they're going to favor security, they're going to favor
stability," he told AFP.

"American involvement just overall is going to be more on the sidelines than
it has been in the past," a message the Saudis "very clearly" understand,
Ryan said.

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