May 5, 2021 - World

Democrats on de-escalation tour of the Middle East

Sen. Chris Murphy is one of the senators visiting the region. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senior Biden administration officials visiting the Middle East this week urged "de-escalation and diplomacy with Iran, Turkey and Qatar," an Arab official briefed on the talks told me."They just want to keep the temperature down in the region."

Why it matters: The Middle East is not a major foreign policy focus for Biden, and his goals in the region are primarily to put Iran’s nuclear program “back in a box” and avoid any further crises that will pull attention away from key challenges like China and Russia.

Driving the news: Three different U.S. delegations visited the region this week.

  • The Biden administration’s delegation consisted of State Department counselor Derek Chollet, acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dana Stroul and National Security Council Middle East Coordinator Brett McGurk. The delegation visited the UAE, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and is expected to visit Egypt later this week.
  • Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Chris Coons and Chris Van Hollen also visited the region and met in Abu Dhabi with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
  • Sen. Chris Murphy visited Jordan, Oman and Qatar, and joined administration officials Monday for dinner with King Abdullah II of Jordan. This was the first visit by Biden administration officials to the kingdom.

What they're saying: Murphy told me the meeting in Jordan was important to show the U.S. commitment to a partner who was neglected by the Trump administration.

  • "Our main message was that we want to decrease tensions in the region, and I was encouraged to see in all my meetings that there are steps to de-escalate — the Saudis are talking to the Iranians, there are Yemen ceasefire talks and talks between Qatar and Egypt," Murphy said.
  • On Yemen, Murphy said he and the Biden administration officials were discussing how to proceed with the Saudi proposal for a ceasefire and pressure the Houthi rebels to accept it.
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