President Joe Biden landed in Saudi Arabia on Friday to discuss energy supply, human rights, and security cooperation as part of a journey to re-establish the United States’ relationship with a nation he once promised to make a “pariah” on the global arena.
The president and his advisers decided not to alienate the kingdom, the world’s top oil producer and regional superpower that has been building relations with Russia and China.
However, the United States’ national security advisor downplayed the likelihood of a rapid increase in oil supplies to assist reduce high fuel prices and relieve the greatest U.S. inflation in four decades.
The White House said Biden will meet with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz at the royal palace in Jeddah, followed by a working session with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS, and Saudi officials at the palace.
On Saturday, Jeddah will host a bigger meeting of Arab leaders.
Biden will address energy security with Gulf oil producers and expects for greater action by OPEC+ to raise production, but no bilateral announcements are expected, according to US national security advisor Jake Sullivan, who is on his way to Jeddah from Israel.
“We believe any further action taken to ensure that there is sufficient energy to protect the health of the global economy, it will be done in the context of OPEC+,” Sullivan added. “We are hopeful that we will see additional actions by OPEC+ in coming weeks.”
The OPEC+ group, which includes Russia, will meet again on August 3.
Biden’s delicate trip will be scrutinized for body language and words, as well as his ability to reestablish ties with Saudi Arabia’s strong crown prince.
US intelligence assessed that MbS personally sanctioned the 2018 murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, despite the crown prince’s denial.
Sullivan emphasized that Biden wants to “recalibrate” Washington’s ties with Saudi Arabia rather than sever them.
White House officials have reluctant to specify whether Biden would shake hands with the prince, who is the de facto ruler of the country. On Saturday, Biden will meet with a larger group of Arab leaders for a conference in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.
“The president’s going to meet about a dozen leaders and he’ll greet them as he usually does,” a senior Biden administration official previously said.
Officials claimed at the outset of Biden’s Middle East tour that he would avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, as a precaution against COVID-19. However, the president ended up shaking hands in Israel. more info
On Thursday, Biden said that his opinion on Khashoggi’s death was “absolutely” clear. Biden made his “pariah” remark less than two years ago, after the murder of a journalist and while running for president. more info
Biden said that he will address human rights issues with Saudi authorities, but he did not specify if he would bring up the Khashoggi murder.
Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, Saudi ambassador to the United States, repeated the kingdom’s “abhorrence” of the death, calling it as a horrible murder that cannot characterize US-Saudi relations.
She also said that the relationship should not be seen via the “outdated and reductionist” oil-for-security paradigm.
“The world has changed and the existential dangers facing us all, including food and energy security and climate change, cannot be resolved without an effective U.S.-Saudi alliance.”