The Biden-Harris Administration (BHA) has been given an inbox with enormous challenges for the turbulent Middle East (ME). Among them are: Iran’s recent nuclear advances and its continued destabilizing behavior in the ME; a humanitarian crisis from the war in Yemen; and ongoing hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians.
Iran remains the world’s greatest sponsor of terrorism, and Israel views it as an existential threat. In 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), abandoning our alliance with China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom. What followed was reinstated sanctions by the U.S. on the Iranian regime. However, ever since the U.S. pulled out, Iran has been “inching away” from its commitments. The BHA has indicated that Tehran must return to strict compliance with the JCOPA before the U.S. would even consider rejoining the alliance. Also, the U.S. would strengthen and negotiate some extensions of the JCPOA and push back on Iran’s destabilizing activities. In recent U.S. Senate hearings for two BHA appointees, Ms. Haines (Intelligence) and Mr. Blinken (State), both indicated that Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA was “a long way” off.
One of Iran’s destabilizing activities is the Saudi-led war in Yemen, for which the BHA has vowed to end U.S. support. Iran and its client Hezbollah provide resources for the Zaydi Shia Muslim Houthis. The Houthis use their missiles and drones to attack Saudi cities and military bases and to control most of Northern Yemen. The architect of the Saudi War is the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS), who is inexperienced in military affairs. MBS has led Saudi Arabia as it carried out heavy bombing of both military and civilian targets in Yemen. The United Nations estimates 80% of Yemenis are at risk of malnutrition. The BHA has stated that they will hold the Saudis accountable for the Yemen war and will also begin an investigation on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi that occurred two years ago in Istanbul.
On the Israelis-Palestinians challenge, the BHA has committed to restoring diplomatic ties to the Palestinian Authority. It will focus on alleviating Palestinian suffering by delivering millions of dollars in security assistance and financial aid. The Palestinians seem to desire a fresh start as they recently announced they are restoring communication with Israel.
Our speaker, Bruce Riedel, spoke to CCFR in October 2015, and we welcome him back. He is eminently qualified to speak to us about the ME challenges facing the BHA. Riedel is a senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project. He also serves as a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy. He retired in 2006 after 30 years of service at the CIA.
Riedel served as a senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to four presidents of the U.S. while on the staff of the National Security Policy at the White House. He was a member of President Clinton’s peace process team and negotiated at Camp David and other Arab-Israeli summits. For President Obama, he chaired a review of American policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He is a graduate of Brown (B.A.) and Harvard (M.A.). Riedel has published numerous books and articles and received awards for his service.
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Save the Date: March 11, 2021
Tom Perriello, Open Society Foundations, TBA