OPINION: Joe Biden’s election as US president could reshape policies for some key nations in the Middle East, but is unlikely to impact the peace accords brokered by incumbent Donald Trump between Israel and other Arab states.


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On top of Biden’s Middle East agenda would be the fate of Iran’s nuclear deal, where he has promised to "change course".

Trump unilaterally walked out of the nuclear deal in 2018, imposing stringent economic sanctions on Iran and squeezing its financial sector.

The rolling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on Iran had cornered the nation on the international arena, led to runaway domestic inflation and contributed to massive shortages of essential commodities.

The landmark Iran nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was struck in 2015, when Biden was vice president alongside president Barack Obama.

Biden has made his ambition of re-joining the nuclear accord clear, if Iran returns to compliance with the deal.

Normalisation of US ties with Iran could also lead to a flood of oil supplies onto the international market, although oil market experts suggest such supplies are unlikely to flood into the market before the end of next year.

Saudi ties

Trump maintained a cordial relationship with regional powers Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt.

Any positive development on Iran could particularly irk Saudi Arabia, the nation which has curtailed the regional dominance of Tehran through close relations with the Trump administration.

Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen’s war has also come under severe criticism by the new president-elect.

Many believe that the kingdom’s human rights policies could overshadow Riyadh’s historic ties with Washington.

Biden pledged in his election campaign to reassess ties with Saudi Arabia, demanding more accountability over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate in 2018.

Even as other Arab states raced to applaud the Democrat challenger, the kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman paused portentously before finally congratulating Biden on his victory.

Several other countries in the region — including Iraq, Syria and Libya — are experiencing civil conflict, and Biden is expected to engage more with these nations.

Biden might also look at curtailing the regional dominance of Turkey, which has increased its military presence in the region under the Trump administration.

Israeli alliance

Trump recently announced a peace deal that aims to normalise relations between Israel and Sudan, following on from similar peace agreements his administration brokered between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain earlier this year.

Biden is unlikely to reverse Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

As vice president, Biden in 2016 facilitated a multi-billion-dollar aid package for Israel, and he has made it clear that he is not planning to move the US embassy back to to Tel Aviv.

But support for Israel will also mean extending his own support to normalising relations with Arab countries.

Qatar question

Biden is expected to seek a balancing role as far as Qatar and Saudi Arabia — at loggerheads for years — are concerned.

In the Middle East, as elsewhere, diplomats can expect a more nuanced foreign policy under Biden, with issues such as human rights and climate change back in the frame, but few expect a radical break with the overriding principle of pragmatism.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)