President Biden will visit Saudi Arabia, a country he has promised to make a ‘pariah’ state

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President Biden plans to visit Saudi Arabia later this month, a remarkable departure from his vow as a presidential candidate to treat the country as a ‘pariah’ state, according to three administration officials who have spoken on condition of anonymity to share details of an as yet unannounced trip.

On Friday, Biden commented on May’s strong jobs report and faced questions about the trip ahead. He declined to confirm, saying “I don’t have any direct plans at the moment” and instead stressed the importance of a visit to the area.

“I am committed to trying to work on how we can bring more stability and peace to the Middle East. And it is possible that I will meet both Israelis and Arabs. Some Arab countries at the time , including, I think Saudi Arabia would be included if I went there,” he said.

The president’s possible trip to Saudi Arabia follows broader efforts by his administration to forge ties with the oil-rich nation to reduce the price of gas in the United States, which has risen sharply in recent months.

A stopover in Saudi Arabia is expected to be added to Biden’s overseas trip this month, when he visits Israel, Germany and Spain, officials said.

The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia broke down after the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and outspoken critic of the Saudi government. US intelligence has concluded that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince and de facto leader of the kingdom, ordered the killing of Khashoggi, which happened inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“We were actually going to make them pay the price and actually make them the pariah that they are,” Biden said of Saudi Arabia during a 2019 Democratic presidential candidates’ debate.

He added that there is “very little redemptive social value in the current government in Saudi Arabia”.

Now, Biden’s trip is likely to raise new doubts about the administration’s promise to keep human rights at the center of its foreign policy, given Saudi Arabia’s history of abuses, especially towards women.

Pressed on his vow to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state, Biden said on Friday: “I am not going to change my view of human rights, but as President of the United States my job is to bring peace. If I can, peace if I can. And that’s what I’m going to try to do. »

During the trip, the president is expected to meet Mohammed, the officials said, a face-to-face visit that is the culmination of half a dozen low-key visits to the kingdom over the past two years by the top adviser to the President for the Middle East, Brett McGurk, and by his special envoy for energy affairs, Amos Hochstein.

The pair traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates again last week to push forward a range of issues, including a presidential visit and increased oil production amid rising energy prices. and inflation that have hampered the president’s approval ratings, a U.S. official said. , who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic details.

The decision on whether the president should visit the crown prince has divided members of the Biden administration, many of whom have preferred to keep autocracy at bay after former President Donald Trump’s remarkably close relationship with the kingdom, a relationship that has infuriated human rights defenders.

But supporters of maintaining close ties with Riyadh finally won after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The impact of the conflict on oil and gas prices has heightened concerns for the Biden administration over its relationship with Saudi Arabia, which had repeatedly rejected US demands for increased oil production.

A meeting with Mohammed was ultimately seen as a necessary act of realpolitik to bring down energy prices and inflation, despite Biden’s campaign promise to further isolate Riyadh. It is far from clear that this decision will significantly reduce the price of oil.

Asked about such a meeting, Biden said, “Listen, we’re getting a head start here. What I want to do is make sure that we reduce the likelihood of there being a continuation of this, some of the senseless wars between Israel and the Arab nations. And that’s what I’m focused on…doing enough for oil production.

OPEC+ member countries announced on Thursday that the group would increase production by 648,000 barrels per day in July and August, a modest acceleration of plans already underway to reverse the pandemic-related drop in production. The commitment to increase production came amid pressure from the White House for OPEC+ to do more to fill the vacuum created by sanctions against Russia. But the decision is seen by many energy analysts as having only a modest impact, and it’s unclear whether further production increases will occur over the summer.

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