According to former senior CIA operations officer and Middle East expert Norman Roule, President Joe Biden’s impending July tour of the Middle East has the potential to heal his country’s relations with Saudi Arabia, which is critical for the US.

Roule told Katie Jensen, host of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News talk show that features interviews with leading policymakers and business leaders, that the visit could not only have a major impact on US-Saudi and regional long-term ties, but also lead to the development of a relationship that will help both countries achieve their long-term goals.

Despite rising fuel prices and rapid inflation in the United States, the White House has disputed that Biden’s visit will be primarily focused on oil, a position shared by Roule.

“The United States and Saudi Arabia have a number of concerns ranging from green energy to space that will be key to the conversations in Riyadh,” he said.

Early in June, an OPEC and non-OPEC ministerial conference resulted in a vow to increase oil output by 50% in July to help alleviate the rapid rise in fuel prices.

Other problems on the table include the waterways that surround Saudi Arabia and are critical to the US economy, such as the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Arabian Gulf.

Norman Roule, a former senior CIA operations officer and Middle East expert, chats with Katie Jensen, host of the Arab News talk show “Frankly Speaking.” (A photograph)

Agriculture and food security will be discussed, both regionally and in Africa, where Saudi Arabia’s influence is rising, as well as the fight against extremism.

“These concerns really don’t receive much coverage,” Roule said, “because they sound a little more boring than oil and gas pricing and some more straightforward challenges.”

As Biden prepares to visit a country that some Americans see as a huge petrol station, many believe that oil is the elephant in the room. Some people believe that Saudi Arabia, as OPEC’s largest and most profitable member, is to blame for the current price increase. Roule isn’t convinced.

“President Putin bears a significant share of the guilt,” he stated. “Saudi Arabia has a part, but I wouldn’t say it’s a major one.”

Many other reasons, he claimed, are at play, including the stoppage of Russian oil, gas, and coal exports to Europe, as well as rapid economic development as the global economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Capital investment has failed in the United States and other countries,” he continued. As a result of our economic policies and coming out of COVID-19, we have an incredible growth of the economy.”

According to Roule, one of the most intriguing features of Biden’s forthcoming visit is that “the economic aims of the US government and the Saudi monarchy are practically identical.”

Apart from more transnational trade difficulties, the US and Saudi Arabia are both attempting to develop infrastructure and assist the expansion of their respective middle classes.

Roule believes it is critical to safeguard both countries’ achievements. “Each party hopes to prevent any regional confrontations that could result in costly conventional wars, reversing those economic and social advances,” he said.

“We need Saudi Arabia’s cooperation and partnership, as well as to examine how we can support Saudi Arabia’s own attempts to combat extremism across the Islamic world,” said the official.

“You’re going to have the president of the United States and his large staff observe firsthand what life is like in Saudi Arabia,” Roule added. That’ll have a big impact.”

“You’ll have a personal relationship possibility between the president and all of the actors he meets on this trip, including Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.”

Roule feels that the two leaders’ personal relationship has the ability to “see channels of communication and structures built up so that they can continue these discussions and actually achieve the goals that these meetings were supposed to create in the months that follow this meeting.”

While Roule believes the US leadership appreciates the Kingdom’s reform objectives and obstacles, a larger audience “usually views the Kingdom in terms of the 9/11 issue, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and the oil issue.”

According to Roule, Saudi media could do more to refute conventional views of the Kingdom, noting that other Middle Eastern countries such as Israel and Qatar have 24-hour broadcasting stations that American television viewers may watch.

A Saudi 24-hour television channel, he adds, might “present life in a flat, nonpartisan, non-political way.”

A probable Biden visit to Saudi Arabia is not without its critics, just as Saudi Arabia is not without its flaws. Those who oppose the travel point to human rights violations and Yemen’s seven-year-long civil war.

“I have spoken with numerous Saudi officials who have informed me, to my satisfaction, frankly, that they are trying to do everything they can to limit civilian casualties,” Roule says of the misgivings.

“I would stress that the Biden administration, in its rhetoric and political statements, has repeatedly thanked the Kingdom for its strenuous diplomatic efforts to achieve a political solution to this conflict, and it has been quite a while since you have had the Biden administration criticize the Saudi government, and that is based on what I am certain is the simple view of the facts,” he added.

Roule is certain that the Houthis, who are backed by Iran, are the main obstacle to a peaceful conclusion to Yemen’s crisis.

According to Roule, who spent 34 years with the CIA covering the Middle East, US-Saudi relations are crucial in fighting Iran’s malign efforts.

He worked for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for nine years as the national intelligence manager for Iran, and he is now a senior counsel to the political advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran.

According to Roule, Tehran may see Biden’s visit as a threat, and the government and its proxies may try to sabotage it.

Roule stated he has been impressed by several aspects of the Kingdom’s improvement during his nearly forty-year visits to the Kingdom. (Photo by AN)

“They are not pleased with this approaching visit, particularly with the prospect of stronger air defenses in the region,” he said, “since an integrated air-defense system for the region would hamper Iran’s capacity to undertake missile and drone assaults directly or through its proxies.”

Roule described the Arabian Peninsula’s recent social and economic success as “the greatest threat to the Iranian leadership,” adding that Tehran sees the region’s achievements as “a tremendous corrosive that will erode the Islamic Republic’s stability.”

Iran, in his opinion, is attempting to establish hegemony in the Arab world through force, contradicting former US President Barack Obama’s claim in an interview with The Atlantic magazine that finding a way to “share the neighborhood” with Saudi Arabia and Iran is the best way to establish a “cold peace.”

Despite the roadblocks that Iran’s proxy group Hamas is erecting in order to stymie an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Roule believes Saudi Arabia can play an important role in achieving a peaceful resolution.

Issawi Frej, Israel’s minister for regional relations, remarked in a previous episode of Frankly Speaking that “Saudi leadership would be key to any future agreement.”

Roule agreed, stating, “The Kingdom has frequently stated its support for a two-state solution, and once the Palestinian issue is settled, as well as certain valid Palestinian concerns and demands, it will see increased engagement with Israel, which it accepts as a part of the area.”

Roule has been impressed by many aspects of the Kingdom’s progress during his nearly forty-year visits, and he remains optimistic that such a visit may have a greater impact on how the world regards the country.

“The Kingdom’s history, including pre-Islamic history, is more open than it has ever been,” he remarked.

“I’ve been impressed by the amount of friends I have in the American business sector who have told me about their excursions to Saudi Arabia, which are becoming increasingly touristic in nature, with excitement and astonishment.”

He also praised the opening of the UNESCO World Heritage site in AlUla to a growing number of tourists, calling it “the biggest development in archaeology in possibly the last 20, 30 or 50 years.”

Those who visit the Kingdom from outside, according to Roule, “return with a great awareness of this unique landscape, history, a very kind people, the similarity and values between the American people and the Saudi people and the Arabs in general.”


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