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Morning in the Middle East?

International relations are shifting across the Middle East as regional powers adapt to America's retrenchment and China's growing influence. Although the region could become the site of another great-power competition, it also has a chance to pursue diplomatic openings and new security arrangements.

LONDON – What are we to make of the reshuffling of relations and shifting alliances in the Middle East? Diplomacy has gained momentum among bitter foes; cracks have appeared among close friends. Regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt are recalibrating their foreign policies and restoring relations with estranged neighbors. The United States and Russia have renewed their regional rivalry, and China has entered as a new competitor.

These shifting geopolitics could make the Middle East the scene of a fierce and truly global competition. But they also could defuse regional rivalries, by bringing together countries that historically loath one another. Much will depend on the main factors behind the new realignments: America’s regional retrenchment, China’s rise, and the COVID-19 pandemic’s adverse impact on already weak regional economies.

US President Joe Biden has made it clear that the Middle East is not a foreign-policy priority for his administration. Whereas former President Donald Trump built an anti-Iran coalition led by Saudi Arabia and Israel, Biden has sought to distance himself from Saudi Arabia, not least by ending US support for the war in Yemen. His administration has resumed diplomacy to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew the US in 2018, and it has kept Turkey and Egypt (two of Trump’s favorites) at arm’s length.