Temporarily unavailable: US to be largely absent from foreign affairs in coming weeks

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Containing the coronavirus pandemic and mitigating its economic impact will fill the agenda of the 46th president of the United States for the foreseeable future meaning US foreign policy will be placed on the backburner, political analysts said ahead of Election Tuesday.

This means traditional US allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, will need to depend on one another and upon themselves for the time being according to the analysts.

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And this has already drawn concern from Arab and Gulf diplomats.

“There are so many big domestic issues that are taking up all the bandwidth here in the US that the rest of the world becomes an afterthought. So that’s my worry, that the domestic focus leads to neglect of foreign policy issues,” UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba said in an interview published Sunday.

One of the main problematic issues in the region is Iran. US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, engineered by his predecessor Barack Obama.

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For Biden, he has already expressed interest in rejoining the JCPOA, or a close duplicate.

“Iran policy will be an important preoccupation of the Biden administration. The question will pivot around the role of sanctions in a Biden policy on Iran,” Randa Slim, a director at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, told Al Arabiya English.

And although a potential Biden presidency will be looking for ways to reach a new deal with Iran, “they will find it difficult to get there,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

In a second term for Trump, he and his administration will be waiting for Iran to accept an offer to sit down and negotiate a new deal.

Until that happens, the maximum-pressure campaign will remain in place and possibly expand.

The sanctions regime on Syria and Lebanon are likely to remain under either candidate.

Slim added that senior foreign policy advisors for Biden have said that he would re-evaluate the current US policy toward Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey if he were elected.

But Turkey may be where observers could see the most significant shift in a potential Biden administration.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Hamas's political bureau chief Ismail Haniya (L) during their meeting in Istanbul, December 14, 2019. (AFP)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Hamas's political bureau chief Ismail Haniya (L) during their meeting in Istanbul, December 14, 2019. (AFP)

“Bilateral ties will probably deteriorate in more noticeable ways. [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan won’t be able to count on the same chummy personal relationship he has with Trump,” Katulis told Al Arabiya English.

If Trump is re-elected, analysts and observers believe there will be more pressure on him by Europe and allies in the Middle East to take a tougher stance against Erdogan.

As coronavirus cases continue to surge to record numbers in the US and political squabbling prevents another stimulus package from helping US businesses and citizens, the priority will be on domestic issues.

“But ultimately, the Middle East will have to adjust to the fact that America is just not that into it the way that it once was, and that a 40-year period of intense US engagement is likely drawing to a close,” Katulis said.

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