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Biden planning Gulf visit this month

Audience, Person, Crowd Thomson Reuters/JONATHAN ERNST

US officials are planning a trip for President Joe Biden to the Middle East later this month to meet Gulf allies, which could put him in the same room with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, sources said on Wednesday.

No final decisions have been made about the trip, according to sources inside and outside the United States familiar with the planning, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The trip, tentatively being planned after a G7 summit in Germany and a NATO meeting in Spain, would include a visit to Israel, in which Biden would meet Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the sources said.

Asked about the possibility of Biden going to Saudi Arabia, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday she had no trips to preview, and that Biden stood by his earlier opinions of the crown prince.

Upset at the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which U.S. intelligence says was approved by bin Salman, Biden entered office in January 2021 vowing to recalibrate the US relationship with Saudi Arabia. Former President Donald Trump’s White House had cozy ties with the crown prince.

The visit would be aimed at bolstering relations with Saudi Arabia at a time when Biden is trying to find ways to lower high gasoline prices in the United States.

Whether Saudi Arabia would agree to increase oil production is highly uncertain. It has previously rejected US requests to do so, remaining in compliance with an output agreement that OPEC reached with Russia and nine other producers.

The so-called OPEC+ group has been unwinding record output cuts in place since 2020, as demand recovered from the coronavirus pandemic, but not as fast as the West and other consumers want.

Biden is aiming to participate in a Riyadh summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional union whose members are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, sources said.

The goal would be to reactivate an annual summit between the United States and the GCC that began during the presidency of Barack Obama.

Before agreeing to the summit, Washington is looking for an extension of the Yemen truce and clarity on oil output by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, one source said.

A two-month nationwide truce between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-aligned Houthi group, the first since 2016, expires on June 2.

Two senior US officials visited Saudi Arabia in May for talks that covered energy and other issues but did not include calls for boosting Saudi oil exports, the White House said at the time.