Biden will visit Saudi Arabia and meet with MBS, according to US officials

The White House has confirmed details of US President Joe Biden’s maiden voyage to the Middle East, including a controversial stop in Saudi Arabia and an expected meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

The Biden administration confirmed Tuesday that the trip, previously reported in US media, would take place between July 13 and 16. Biden will also visit Israel and the occupied West Bank.

The closure in Saudi Arabia – and the meeting with MBS in particular – marks a turning point for Biden, who as a candidate claimed that the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who US intelligence then linked directly to the crown prince, made the kingdom is a “pariah” fact. † Khashoggi was brutally murdered and dismembered on 2 October 2018 by a group of Saudi agents at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi officials initially lied about the murder, claiming that Khashoggi had left the consulate, then changed their story and subsequently arrested many of his subjects. In 2019, the United Nations ruled that Khashoggi’s murder was a “premeditated extrajudicial murder”.

During his visit in July, Biden is expected to attempt to increase Saudi oil production as his administration struggles to curb rising fuel costs – spurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine – and domestic inflation that is expected to hit the country. Democratic party. in the next mid-term congressional elections. In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden would attend a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. during his stay in Jeddah.

With Saudi leaders, the US president “will discuss a range of bilateral, regional and global issues”, Jean-Pierre said, including an ongoing UN-brokered ceasefire in the fighting in Yemen, where Riyadh has since led a coalition fighting against the Houthis. rebels 2015. Biden “will also discuss ways to expand regional economic and security cooperation, including promising new infrastructure and climate initiatives, as well as deterring threats from Iran, promoting human rights and to ensure global energy and food security,” she said.

Jean-Pierre then confirmed comments by a senior US official who told reporters that Biden would meet MBS during the visit. “Yes, we can expect the president to see the crown prince,” she said.

After US intelligence agencies directly linked MBS to Khashoggi’s assassination, the White House previously reported that Biden, who took office on a promise to “recalibrate” US relations with his longtime ally and him -even, would not deal directly with MBS in the future, like its predecessor. , former President Donald Trump, had done. At the time, the White House said Biden would only work directly with his counterpart, King Salman.

Speaking to reporters, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement, denied that Biden was backing away from his principles on the upcoming trip. “US policy called for a recalibration of ties” after Khashoggi’s murder, “not a breakup,” the official said.

When asked during an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday whether Biden would discuss Khashoggi’s assassination with MBS, National Security Council official John Kirby declined details, but added, “The rights of the men are always on the agenda when we engage with colleagues all over the world”. Before visiting Saudi Arabia, Biden will stop in Israel and meet Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, where “he will reaffirm Israel’s solid commitment to Israel’s security” and discuss continued US aid, Jean-Pierre said.

The United States provides approximately $ 3.8 billion in unconditional aid to Israel annually, despite widespread condemnation of human rights violations during the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories, including the recent assassination by Israeli security forces of the Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in May. Abu Akleh was shot in the face by a sniper while reporting from Jenin in the occupied West Bank. Witnesses and reporters close to her said it was clear the shot came from Israelis who had been tipped off that the reporters were in the area. Abu Akleh’s helmet and vest clearly identified them as journalists.

The visit came as the Biden administration continued to try to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which saw Tehran cut its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and from which Trump withdrew in 2018. On Tuesday, Israel’s defense minister, who has long opposed the deal, called for a “regional force” against US-led Iran that includes Arab countries that align with Washington.

In the West Bank, Biden will meet with Palestinian Authority officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, and “reaffirm his strong support for a two-state solution, with equal security, freedom and opportunity for the Palestinian people,” the Palestinian people said. ‘Palestinian Authority. White House. The visit comes after the Biden administration renamed the US diplomatic mission to the Palestinians, signaling an upgrade after the mission was relegated under Trump. The Biden administration has given no update on its promise to reopen a consulate for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem after Trump closed the previous one. Biden’s flight from Israel to Saudi Arabia will be the first time the US president flies from Israel to an Arab state he does not recognize.