Trump victory heralds US Mideast policy shake-up
WASHINGTON - The United States and the Middle East are entering a new era with US President-elect Donald Trump expected to shake up key policy positions, including a decidedly pro-Israeli course and a tougher line on Iran.
Speaking after a tumultuous election campaign dotted with vague and sometimes contradictory foreign policy statements, Trump said his administration would not seek adventure or conflict abroad.
“While we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone… all people and all other nations,” Trump said. “We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.”
In the first concrete sign that Washington’s Middle East policy is in for a change, Trump invited Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for talks in the United States “at the first opportunity”, Netanyahu’s office said.
The invitation, coming after years of estrangement between the United States and Israel, suggests that the new administration is seeking to repair ties with a crucial ally in the region.
“Israel is the one true democracy and defender of human rights in the Middle East and a beacon of hope to countless people,” Trump said in a message published by the Hayom newspaper. He added that he hoped his administration would play a “significant role in helping the parties to achieve a just, lasting peace”, saying that any deal would have to be directly negotiated between the two sides.
Trump did not send a similar message to the Palestinian side.
The president elect’s allegations that Washington’s partners in the Gulf were not paying enough for their own defence and his anti- Muslim rhetoric during the campaign are likely to trigger concerns among traditional Muslim US allies in the region.
The same goes for his position on Syria. During the campaign, Trump promised he would work closer with Russia to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria as quickly as possible but said he would not put much pressure on Syria’s President Bashar Assad, seen by the West and America’s allies in the Middle East as the man responsible for Syria’s war that has killed at least 400,000 people since 2011. During one of the debates during the campaign, Trump dismissed a suggestion by his running mate, Mike Pence, that the United States could use military force against the Syrian government.
Trump also claimed he would tear up the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, arguing that the agreement was a “disaster” that had made Tehran stronger in the region. Should Trump act on his pronouncements after his inauguration on January 20th, the early phase of his presidency could see new tensions with Iran. Tehran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the United States would be “unwise” to abandon the nuclear deal worked out under President Barack Obama.
Supporters of a hard line towards Iran include politicians named as contenders to fill major cabinet posts shaping future US Middle East policy. News reports said candidates for the office of secretary of State include Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, and John Bolton, a former US ambassador at the United Nations. Both Gingrich and Bolton have stated opposition to the Iran deal and are strongly pro-Israel.