Cool welcome for Biden in Gulf amid uncertain Iran policy

Published January 22, 2021, 8:47 AM

by Agence-France-Presse

Newspapers in Arab states of the Gulf on Thursday gave a cautious welcome to new US President Joe Biden, amid uncertainty over whether he will seek to re-engage with regional rival Iran.


Leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council were quick to formally congratulate Biden, who was sworn into office Wednesday in a ceremony boycotted by his predecessor Donald Trump.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan voiced optimism that relations between Riyadh and Washington will be “excellent” under Biden.

The appointments made by Biden for his new administration “showed (an) understanding of the common issues”, Prince Faisal told Al-Arabiya television, without elaborating.

Prince Faisal’s comments comes despite Biden’s pledge during his election campaign to treat the kingdom as a “pariah” over its human rights failings and to end US support to a Saudi-led military campaign in war-ravaged Yemen.

“Goodbye Trump, hello Biden,” Saudi columnist Abdulrahman Al-Rashed wrote in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

Like other Gulf commentators, he pointed to concerns over whether the new US administration’s policies will mirror those of Barack Obama, for whom Biden served as vice president.

Biden is expected to re-adopt a less confrontational stance towards the Islamic republic, unlike Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” and high tensions.

Trump “tied Iran’s arms, destroying its financial and economic capabilities. Therefore, returning to the same point from which Obama left is almost impossible”, Rashed said.

Under Trump, Washington withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and assassinated its once-untouchable military supremo Qasem Soleimani.

The president and his family instead cultivated close relations with the Gulf monarchies.

Saudi Arabia’s pro-government Okaz asked whether the Biden administration would stand by Washington’s Arab allies or “renew with their enemies”.

In Bahrain, the paper Akhbar Al-Khaleej aid Trump deserved “thanks and appreciation”.

His “policies and positions against Iran have established a new reality in American dealings with Iran, and it will be difficult for the Biden administration to completely bypass them,” its columnist Al-Sayed Zahra wrote.

Just across the Gulf from Iran, Bahrain is a longstanding Western ally and home to the US Fifth Fleet.

In 2011, with support from Saudi Arabia, the ruling family crushed month-long protests calling for an elected prime minister.

Hours before he left office, Trump decorated Bahrain’s King Hamad with the Legion of Merit, Degree Chief Commander.