United States vice president Joe Biden will begin a diplomatic visit to the Middle East with a stop in Abu Dhabi and Dubai this week. Mr Biden will also visit Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan to hold meetings about the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In Jordan, the vice president is expected to visit a US-Jordanian military training camp.
This visit comes at a critical time for the region. After the Iran nuclear deal, Gulf states have been justifiably worried about America’s commitment to the security of the Arabian Peninsula, with Iran’s meddling hand increasingly visible from Damascus to Sanaa. But it is Syria that is going to top the agenda for the vice president. The rise of ISIL and continued deadlock in the Syrian civil war is overshadowing all other regional events. The UAE ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, recently described the Syrian conflict as “the only game in town”.
The significance of Mr Biden’s visit should not be underestimated. The UAE has led the region in combating challenges posed by groups such as ISIL. US analysts believe that Mr Biden, who has a long involvement with foreign policy, will want to discuss the state of the cessation of hostilities in Syria, the dynamics on the ground and political implications of possible future scenarios. The GCC’s recent labelling of Hizbollah as a terrorist organisation will also be an important talking point for the vice president.
Mr Biden’s visit presents an opportunity for the leadership to reassert the UAE’s position as a leading country in the Arab world. The UAE can use meetings with the American vice president to underscore its commitment to a just and lasting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and extend a helping hand to the Americans in facilitating this outcome. Syria is dominating the news cycle and policy discussions from the Middle East, but the Palestine issue remains at the heart of regional conflict.
As the Obama adminstration enters its final months, it is unlikely that Mr Biden will announce any major policy shifts during this visit. But that doesn’t diminish the level of influence that the US has in the region. As such, we are looking forward to sharing our influence in a constructive manner that will help create positive solutions to the many challenges we face together.