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Biden heads to Saudi Arabia amid tension over oil

Person, Human, Suit Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein
Joe Biden has plenty to think about on his tour of the Middle East
  • Biden trip designed to reset the US relationship with Saudi Arabia
  • US leader once pledged to make Saudi a “pariah” on world stage
  • Meetings scheduled with Saudi king and crown prince

President Joe Biden will discuss energy supply, human rights, and security cooperation in Saudi Arabia on Friday on a trip designed to reset the US relationship with a country he once pledged to make a “pariah” on the world stage.

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

The visit will be closely watched for body language and rhetoric. US intelligence concluded that MbS directly approved the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, while the crown prince denies having a role in the killing.

White House advisers have declined to say whether Biden will shake hands with the prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

“The president’s going to meet about a dozen leaders and he’ll greet them as he usually does,” the administration official said.

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

Person, Human, Audience
Joe Biden poses with US athletes at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

Biden said on Thursday his position on Khashoggi’s murder was “absolutely” clear. Biden made his “pariah” comment less than two years ago after the journalist’s killing and while campaigning for president.

Biden said that he would raise human rights in Saudi Arabia, but he did not say specifically if he would broach the Khashoggi killing with its leaders.

Energy and security interests prompted the president and his aides to decide not to isolate the country. The United States is eager to see Saudi Arabia and its OPEC partners pump more oil to help bring down the high cost of gasoline and ease the highest US inflation in four decades.

“The Saudis definitely are intending to boost capacity and with oil prices so high they have the wherewithal to do that, particularly as they see production constraints elsewhere in a market that is still growing,” said Daniel Yergin, S&P Global vice chairman and an expert in world energy markets.

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

“We will be covering a host of bilateral and regional issues, really capping many months of diplomacy and positioning the United States and our partners for the future in a manner that advances our interests and theirs,” he said.

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