Biden to meet Saudi leaders despite Khashoggi’s deadly criticism

President Joe Biden will discuss energy, human rights and security cooperation in Saudi Arabia on Friday during a trip designed to renew US relations with a country he once vowed to ‘rogue’ on the world stage.

Biden will hold meetings with King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS, as well as other government officials, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

US intelligence has concluded that MbS directly approved the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, while the crown prince denies any involvement in the assassination.

White House advisers declined to say whether Biden would shake hands with the prince, the realm’s de facto ruler. Biden will meet with a wider range of Arab leaders at a summit in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on Saturday.

“The president is going to meet with a dozen leaders and greet them as usual,” an administration official said.

Khashoggi kills ‘terrible atrocity’, Saudi ambassador says

At the start of Biden’s trip to the Middle East, officials said he would avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, as a precaution against COVID-19. But the president ended up taking part in a handshake in Israel.

Biden said on Thursday that his position on the Khashoggi killing was “absolutely” clear. Biden made his “outcast” comment less than two years ago after the assassination of a journalist and during the presidential campaign.

Biden said he would raise the issue of human rights in Saudi Arabia, but did not specifically say whether he would discuss Khashoggi’s murder with her leaders.

Saudi Ambassador to the United States Reema bint Bandar Al Saud affirmed the kingdom’s “disgust” at the assassination, calling it a terrible atrocity, and said she could not define US-Saudi ties in an article for the US magazine Politico.

She said the relationship also shouldn’t be seen within the “outdated and reductionist” oil-for-security paradigm.

“The world has changed and the existential dangers facing us all, including food and energy security and climate change, cannot be resolved without an effective alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Chengiz called Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia “heartbreaking”.

Even after harsh international criticism of Khashoggi’s murder, the prince has not changed course. Despite legal reforms aimed at limiting the death penalty, just four months ago the kingdom carried out its largest mass execution in recent memory of 81 people convicted on broad terrorism charges, about half of whom were Shiites.

“This has never been a country where you can speak freely, but what we have seen in the last five years is a complete closure of the place for any public criticism or any hint that you may disagree with the authorities,” said Deputy Adam Kugle. regional director of Human Rights Watch.

Truce in Yemen and technical cooperation

Energy and security interests have prompted the president and his aides to decide not to isolate the kingdom, the world’s largest oil exporter and a regional power that is strengthening ties with Russia and China, especially at a time when the Gulf states are worried about a prospective US exit from the region. .

The United States is keen to see Saudi Arabia and its OPEC partners produce more oil in order to reduce the high cost of gasoline and reduce the highest US inflation in four decades.

“The Saudis are definitely intent on building up capacity, and with oil prices so high, they are well placed to do so, especially as they see production constraints elsewhere in a market that is still growing,” said Daniel Yergin, Vice Chairman S&P Global and expert. in the global energy markets.

Biden will encourage peace and push for a more integrated Middle East during his trip, the official said.

“We will be covering a lot of bilateral and regional issues, really bringing months of diplomacy to a close and positioning the United States and our partners for the future in a way that advances our interests and theirs,” he said.

Topics include strengthening the truce in the Yemen war, “balance” in energy markets, and technology cooperation on 5G and 6G, he said.

The Saudi ambassador said the two countries’ peace and security efforts should focus on expanding cooperation and “strengthening the rules-based system” to counter “the vision of chaos promoted by Iran.”

Gulf states share Israel’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and Tehran’s puppets in a region where Saudi Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran vie for influence.

During their visit to Israel as part of the first leg of their trip to the Middle East, Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed a joint pledge to deny Iran nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies. read more

Biden will be the first American president to fly from Israel directly to Jeddah, which the White House says is a “little symbol” of the warming relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia, giving a nod to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. relations with Israel two years ago.

Ahead of Biden’s visit, Saudi Arabia said it would open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more flights to and from Israel, a decision welcomed by Washington.