On the cusp of winter, a blooming international political spring is in the air. An atmosphere of optimism has prevailed over this year’s G20 summit as the US and China, the world’s two largest economies, saw their deteriorating relations come to a halt. “The world has come to a crossroads. Where to go from here,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping, and US President Joe Biden stated: “I absolutely believe there need not be a new Cold War.”
Urging the immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine, called for by both Russia and the US, is yet another key indicator of its great impact on the political and economic world.
The warring presidents started their meeting by congratulating each other on winning the elections, an implication that both presidents' teams have accomplished most of the task before Biden and Xi began direct negotiation.
The US midterm elections results came as no surprise to me; Democrats sealed control of the Senate and Republicans took the House after a tight race. The US Congress elections are difficult because they take place locally and focus on dozens of living, social, and personal issues. By retaining control of the Senate, President Biden has sufficient power to pass his projects and veto those of his opponents. Nevertheless, this power is far from absolute as a decision to sign an agreement with Iran or keep weapons flowing to Ukraine must go through Congress and certain Democratic members of the House may choose to vote with their Republican opponents, against the President.
All the same, I expect Biden to complete his full term seeking a memorable historic achievement - a habit of US presidents. He indeed laid the cornerstone for such an achievement on Monday as he sat face-to-face with the Chinese President in Indonesia. His potential success in putting an end to the crisis so that both powers can coexist on earth would place him on the cover of Time magazine and get him nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The world would remember him, not for the mocking videos posted by his opponents, but for what he did for his country and the world by preventing a new Cold War with China early on. This difficult task can become easier if he refrains from running for a second term as he would have a bigger margin of freedom to make decisions without being concerned about their impact on public opinion and without causing Democrats to lose popularity.
The question that interests us is: How will he deal with our region and its issues during his remaining two years in the White House? A decision to return to - or even set the ground for a new - nuclear deal with Iran can only be achieved by involving concerned regional countries to avoid its abandonment in the future as in the case of former President Barack Obama’s deal. Also, if he chooses to link his name with a Palestinian-Israeli peace process, he will need the support of key regional countries.
If Biden chooses to disengage from the region and its issues to focus on the US conflict with Russia and China, countries such as Saudi Arabia and others in the Gulf region would become involved in this competition and support China, because the Kingdom is China’s biggest supplier of crude oil. This would generate more US pressure on Riyadh, which seeks to achieve balance in its relations.
History shows that our region has always been fertile ground for external conflict aiming at controlling waterways and energy sources. Saudi Arabia remained the target of rivals for nearly a century: The Allied powers against the Axis forces, Nazi Germany and Ottoman Turkey, and the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Today, waterways, oil, and gas are once again sources of conflict, even though the US is the world’s largest producer. The world’s great powers putting a stop to their deteriorating relations would positively impact the energy market and reset the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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