04/02/2021

The United States returns to diplomacy

2 min
Joe Biden with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the White House.

The new president of the United States, Joe Biden, announced yesterday the return of his country to "diplomacy", a new step to undo the legacy of Trumpism in the international arena, which was marked by a mixture of nationalist isolationism and unilateralism. In fact, Biden himself already anticipated Washington's return to multilateralism by signing the return to the Paris Agreement against the climate crisis and to bodies such as the World Health Organization. Now, however, comes the moment of truth, and it is when the new administration has to redefine its position, for example in the Middle East and in the relations it wants to establish with the European Union (with whom Trump has maintained a distant and problematic relationship), Russia and China.

In the Russian case, Biden has already offered to renew the nuclear disarmament treaty until 2026, while maintaining a critical position with the Kremlin for the repressive wave unleashed around the arrest and conviction of the opposition leader Aleksei Navalni. Both in this case and with regards to China, Biden will have to strike a balance in order to maintain good relations while defending Western democratic values.

Where a change is foreseen is in the relationship with one of its strategic allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia. Biden has frozen some of the contracts for arms sales to Riyadh, which heads a coalition of Arab states that support the government of deposed President Al-Hadi in what is in reality a proxy war against Iran, which supports the other side. In between, organisations such as Amnesty International denounce that most of the victims are civilians and not military personnel. Biden wants to end Washington's alignment with Saudi Arabia (and incidentally also with Israel, since having Tehran as a common enemy has turned them into allies) and open a period of détente with the ayatollahs' regime along the lines of Obama's policy. The new president has never been comfortable with the methods of the Saudi dictatorship, and strongly protested over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly ordered by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's current strongman.

This change exemplifies better than anything else the return of the United States to multilateralism, since betting on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty means going back to working hand in hand with the European diplomats, who worked so hard to obtain the agreement from which Trump then disassociated himself. It will not be easy, however, to convince Tehran that it also has to make gestures and show the international community that it has to stop its uranium enrichment program. And, finally, it will be necessary to see how this turnaround will affect relations between the United States and Israel, even though experts in this field are more sceptical of a profound change in US policy.

In any event, this return of the United States to diplomacy is to be welcomed and it is to be hoped that the European Union will seize the opportunity to once again occupy a prominent place on the international stage alongside its ally.

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