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During his painful encounters with a series of Arab strongmen here in Saudi Arabia this weekend, U.S. President Joe Biden kept returning to a single reason for renewing his relationship with U.S. allies who fall on the wrong side of the struggle he often describes as a battle between “democracy and autocracy.”

“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran,” Biden said at a session Saturday with nine Arab leaders in a cavernous hotel ballroom in this ancient port on the Red Sea. “And we’ll seek to build on this moment with active, principled American leadership.”

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