US foreign policy

Transforming Middle East through regime change is not viable, senior US official says

The official said Iran’s breakout time to develop a nuclear weapon was “really short and alarming.”

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The US is revising its approach to the Middle East, having concluded that transforming the region through nation-building or regime change is no longer viable, a senior White House official told reporters Friday.

Speaking to journalists about Washington’s general Middle Eastern stance, the official said, “the ends totally outstrip the means” when looking at “these types of objectives.”

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But the US remains committed to the Middle East and supporting its allies in the face of threats, including terrorism and others from Iran.

On that front, the official predicted Iran’s breakout time to develop a nuclear weapon was “really short and alarming.”

The official began with Israel when discussing US allies and policies toward the region.

“The security of Israel is first and foremost in his [President Joe Biden’s] mind and ours, and I think you can see that from his personal hands-on engagement during the 11-day Gaza conflict earlier this year,” he directed, praising Egypt’s role in those diplomatic efforts.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official also made a note of Washington’s efforts to restore contact with the Palestinians, “which ha[d] basically been severed.”

The Biden administration remains “very committed” to a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel, he said.

Gulf ties

Turning to the Gulf, the official noted the inter-state discord when the Biden administration took office. “I think it’s fair to say now, the rift between Gulf states is pretty much healed,” he summarized, without elaborating how the US played a role in this.

As for Saudi Arabia, he said the US remained committed to the Kingdom’s defense. “We have helped the Saudis quite a bit,” the official maintained, referencing the continued cross-border attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis from Yemen.

He calculated the Saudis were defeating “9 out of 10 of those attacks” now. “We, of course, want to make sure that reaches ten of ten. That’s an awful lot of our work, day to day.”

The Royal Saudi Air Force and the US Air Force in a joint exercise with the participation of Saudi Arabia’s F-15C fighters and the US’ B-1 strategic bombers. (File Photo: SPA)
The Royal Saudi Air Force and the US Air Force in a joint exercise with the participation of Saudi Arabia’s F-15C fighters and the US’ B-1 strategic bombers. (File Photo: SPA)

Lebanon, Iraq, Syria

Referring to Lebanon, the United States wants to make sure “we don’t have any more failed states” in the region.
Open vacuums, he surmised, were filled by “extremist actors on all sides and become… proxy fights by regional powers.”

But he commended the US envoy to Beirut, Dorothy Shea, for her work. This has included working with France and other countries to sanction corrupt individuals in Lebanon’s political system.

“We’re making clear that the only people that can save Lebanon are the Lebanese, and particularly the Lebanese political leaders who have to make hard choices to save their country,” the US official stated.

He added: “An awful lot of work is going on behind the scenes on Lebanon as we move forward.”

Neighboring Syria has seen “one of the quietest periods” since the start of the 11-year civil war, according to the official.

The US wants to maintain that, but it is committed to maintaining its military presence because ISIS remains a serious problem, the spokesperson insisted.

Nevertheless, the Syrian humanitarian situation has become “quite serious.”

On Iraq, the US is prepared for any potential attacks on its forces in the coming months.

“We anticipate, heading into the first part of next year… that some of these attacks might start up again, but we will of course be very ready for that,” the official predicted.

He cited the anniversary of the slaying of Iran’s Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani and “a few other milestones” as serving as possible occasions for Iran-backed militias to target US interests and forces.

Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco

The representative briefly touched on countries in North Africa, including the ongoing work to ensure finding a political resolution to the conflict in Western Sahara.

With regards to Tunisia, he lamented “some democratic backsliding” but voiced encouragement that there had been recent efforts to establish a roadmap for a return to democratic normalcy.

Touching on Libya, the American official felt keeping the electoral process on track was “quite important.”

Asked if the elections scheduled for December 24 should be postponed, he responded that it was up to the Libyans.

“It [the date] might slip a little bit; it is really an issue right now of the final candidates list. And here too, I think there's great international support for this process,” he said.

Read more: US troops staying put in Iraq and Syria: Officials

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