The leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, who are on a congressional trip to the Middle East, say countries in the region are seeking an increased role for the United States to counter the growing influence of China.
House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican, and ranking Democrat Jim Himes of Connecticut spoke to CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” in a joint interview that aired Sunday as the pair were in Israel, as part of a visit that also took them to Jordan and Egypt.
“They did all cite … China’s increased influence in the area as a need for the United States to step up its influence,” Turner said. “So everyone is watching this very closely and seeing this as an opportunity for the United States to not only play a greater role for security but also a greater role in keeping China at bay.”
Himes concurred, saying the three countries “view the US alliance as indispensable.”
China’s growing role in the Middle East of late has alarmed Washington. In March, Beijing mediated a landmark agreement between archfoes Iran and Saudi Arabia that could help significantly ease regional tensions. Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the US has become strained in recent years, while China’s standing has risen.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy cautioned Israel in a speech before the Knesset last week to be wary of Chinese investment in the country.
“While the [Chinese Communist Party] may disguise itself as promoters of innovation, and, true, they act like seeds, we must not allow them to steal our technology,” the California Republican said.
Analysts, however, have said that the Middle East is unlikely to become an arena for the US-Chinese rivalry, given Beijing’s economy-oriented focus and its aversion to playing regional politics.
Washington and Beijing have had tumultuous relations over the past year. Tensions soared following a visit to Taiwan last summer by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and after a Chinese surveillance balloon traversed the US, leading US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to call off a planned visit to China.
US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said last week that the United States was “ready to talk” to China and expressed hope that Beijing would “meet us halfway on this.”
In his interview with Tapper, Turner declined to comment on the domestic turmoil over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul, saying, “Our focus, largely, being from the Intelligence Committee, were on the relations between the United States and Israel and how we can help strengthen the security situation in the area.”
Iran remains a concern for Netanyahu, both Intelligence leaders said.
“With Iran so brutally abusing its own people, I think the prospect for negotiation is arguably further away than ever before,” Himes said when asked about Iran’s nuclear program. “We’re in a little bit of a fix right now because we don’t have a lot of leverage.”
Turner said Netanyahu had made clear in their meeting that he thinks Iran can be deterred.
“If they do believe that there will be military action against them, a surgical-type strike that would diminish their ability to pursue nuclear weapons, that that could have a chilling effect and could stall their programming. And he doesn’t want that opportunity to be missed,” the Ohio Republican said.
Efforts to try to restore the Iran nuclear agreement remain halted, and Tehran continues to breach the restrictions set out by the deal.
A top US Defense official warned earlier this year that Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb was accelerating. The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has reported that uranium particles enriched to near bomb-grade levels were found in January at an Iranian nuclear facility.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Nadeen Ebrahim, Tamara Qiblawi, Adam Pourahmadi, Kristin Wilson and Haley Talbot contributed to this report.