WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — U.S. President Joe Biden will make his first trip to the Middle East next month with visits to Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia, the White House announced Tuesday.
It was decided to go to Saudi Arabia between July 13 and 16, despite the fact that, when he was a candidate, Biden called the country a “pariah” for its human rights violations and promised to recalibrate relations with it.
Biden will meet with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto leader, according to an official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity. US intelligence agencies have concluded that Prince Mohammed likely ordered the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
After assuming the presidency, the US government made it clear that Biden would not speak directly with the prince but with the king.
Human rights activists and some Democratic politicians warned Biden that he should not go to Saudi Arabia without first securing rights commitments, arguing that doing so would send the message that there will be no consequences for flagrant abuses. The Saudis have been accused of mass arrests, executions and violent repression of any dissent.
But at a time of high inflation, a resurgent Iranian nuclear program and fears that China is projecting its power and influence internationally, the Biden administration has concluded that distancing itself from the Saudis, particularly the prince, simply doesn’t work. to American interests.
The White House announced the trip after Saudi Arabia helped persuade oil group OPEC+ to increase output by 648,000 barrels a day and agreed to extend a UN-brokered truce in Yemen. Biden called the decision on the truce in Yemen “courageous.” Prince Mohammed “had a leading role” in getting the ceasefire extended, the official said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, in a statement announcing the trip, said King Salman had invited Biden to visit Saudi Arabia on the occasion of a six-nation Council meeting in the city of Jeddah. Gulf Cooperation — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates — as well as Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
“In Saudi Arabia, the president will also discuss a host of bilateral, regional and international issues. These include support for the UN-brokered truce in Yemen, which is the longest period of peace there since the war broke out seven years ago,” Jean-Pierre said.