Biden's First Middle East Trip Raises Some Eyebrows

President will meet with Crown Prince Mohammed in Saudi Arabia, which he once called a 'pariah'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 14, 2022 8:43 AM CDT
Biden to Visit 'Pariah' Saudi Arabia Next Month
President Biden speaks during a bill-signing ceremony on Monday in the East Room of the White House in Washington.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

President Biden will make his first trip to the Middle East next month with visits to Israel, the West Bank, and Saudi Arabia, the White House announced Tuesday. The decision to pay a call on Saudi leaders during the July 13-16 trip comes after Biden as a Democratic presidential candidate branded the kingdom a "pariah" because of its human rights record and pledged to recalibrate the US-Saudi relationship, per the AP. Biden plans to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, according to a senior administration official. US intelligence officials determined Prince Mohammed likely ordered the brutal 2018 killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. After Biden took office, his administration made clear the president would avoid direct engagement with the crown prince and instead focus his engagements with King Salman.

Human rights advocates and some Democratic allies cautioned Biden about visiting the oil-rich kingdom, saying such a visit without first getting human rights commitments would send a message to Saudi leaders that there are no consequences for egregious rights violations. The Saudis have been accused of using mass arrests, executions, and violence to squelch dissent. But at a time of skyrocketing prices at the gas pump, growing worries on Iran's nuclear program, and perpetual concern that China is expanding its global footprint, Biden and his national security team have determined that freezing out the Saudis, particularly the crown prince, is simply not in the US interest. Biden's first stop in the Middle East will be in Israel for a long-planned visit with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem. He'll then meet with Palestinian Authority leaders, including Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank.

Biden will cap the whirlwind trip with a visit to Jeddah for a meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council leaders and talks with King Salman, the crown prince, and other Saudi officials. Facing questions earlier this month about a potential visit to Saudi Arabia, Biden stressed that the relationship had multiple facets that impact US and Middle East security. "Look, I'm not going to change my view on human rights," Biden said. "But as president of the United States, my job is to bring peace if I can. ... And that's what I'm going to try to do." "While in Saudi Arabia, the president will also discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues with his counterparts," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. "These include support to the UN-mediated truce in Yemen, which has led to the most peaceful period there since war began seven years ago."

(More President Biden stories.)

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