Biden to visit Saudi Arabia, a country he vowed to treat as a 'pariah'

Biden to visit Saudi Arabia, a country he vowed to treat as a ‘pariah’

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is expected to visit Saudi Arabia this month as his administration tries to repair strained relations with a long time US ally and bring more oil onto the global market, five sources with knowledge of his plans said.

The president will visit Israel on the same trip, potentially setting him up to fly directly from Saudi Arabia to Israel — a symbolically important move as the Biden administration works to expand on the Trump administration’s progress in nurturing fledgling ties between Israel and Arab Gulf states.

During the stop in Saudi Arabia in late June, Biden is likely to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, US officials and others familiar with his travel plans said. Widely known by his initials, MBS, the crown prince is Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and is in line to be his next king.

The officials and others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss plans that have not yet been announced. The White House declined to comment Thursday about whether Biden would visit Saudi Arabia.

The Washington Post previously reported Biden’s planned trip to Saudi Arabia.

Granting a presidential visit to Saudi Arabia would mark a significant reversal for Biden, who promised on the campaign trail to treat the kingdom as a “pariah” state after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and critic of the crown prince, at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. The CIA later concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed had ordered Khashoggi’s murder. The crown prince has denied any personal involvement in the killing.

“They have to be held accountable,” Biden said in 2019 during an NBC News-Washington Post candidate debate.

Yet Saudi Arabia’s outsize role in several of the most pressing foreign policy issues facing the Biden administration has made the country and its leadership difficult to avoid. Since Biden took office, he and his administration have worked quietly to smooth over tensions with Riyadh.

“President Biden was determined that we recalibrate the relationship with Saudi Arabia and to make sure that the relationship was serving our own interests, as well as our values, as we move forward, but also preserving it, because it also helps us accomplish many important things,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at an event this week hosted by Foreign Affairs magazine.

The administration this week praised Riyadh for its role in securing an extension of a truce in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and its allies for years have been fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia is also closely watching whether the US will strike an agreement to return to the nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s archenemy.

And Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre credited Riyadh on Twitter for its role in an OPEC agreement to increase oil production this summer, as the Biden administration desperately seeks ways to lower US gas prices ahead of the midterm elections. Saudi Arabia has resisted increasing oil output despite the global market disruptions caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Biden will also meet in Riyadh with the Gulf Cooperation Council, two diplomats said. The council, a regional bloc that includes other US allies in the Gulf, like Qatar and Bahrain, plays a significant role in US efforts to isolate Iran, and many of its members are among the world’s largest producers of oil and gas.

The stops in Israel and Saudi Arabia are expected to be added to a previously scheduled trip Biden is expected to make in late June to Germany and Spain, where he will attend a pair of global summits.

Abigail Williams contributed.

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