August 14, 2022

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Middle East Journey: Biden arrives in Saudi Arabia as the White House prepares to meet with Mohammed bin Salman

Middle East Journey: Biden arrives in Saudi Arabia as the White House prepares to meet with Mohammed bin Salman

Biden arrived in Jeddah on Friday, and is scheduled to first attend a formal meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, but – given the king’s deteriorating health – Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, will moderate the working session. The White House did not acknowledge that Biden would meet directly with Mohammed bin Salman until the timetable was published Thursday evening.

Weeks ago, Biden had been downplaying his meeting with the crown prince, who the US said had punished the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The crown prince denied any role.

“I will not meet with Mohammed bin Salman. I will attend an international meeting and he will be part of it,” Biden told reporters last month.

But he will not meet with other world leaders at the GCC+3 summit until Saturday and Friday and the focus will remain on the Saudis.

White House officials agreed that they would come under heavy criticism for the meeting, including from members of Biden’s party, but decided to move forward because they saw it as the more practical option, acknowledging that working with the Saudis is much easier than without it. they.

While it is not expected to explicitly announce an increase in oil production once Biden leaves Jeddah, officials expect to announce this in the coming weeks, in addition to progress on the ceasefire in Yemen.

Biden’s working visit with Mohammed bin Salman is seen as an opportunity to reset the relationship, and officials say, depending on how the meeting goes, Biden can start communicating with Mohammed bin Salman directly during the calls, which he has refused to do so far.

The president has repeatedly defended it His decision to travel to Saudi Arabia and meet Mohammed bin Salman, Preserving his administration wants to lead in the region and not create a vacuum for it Russia And China to fill. But the trip has come under intense scrutiny, and the decision to meet Mohammed bin Salman is a significant departure from Biden’s campaign pledge. Saudi Arabia is a pariah state.

The president’s interactions with the crown prince will be subject to intense scrutiny — particularly how he greets Mohammed bin Salman and whether Biden shakes hands with him. The White House has sought to downplay the importance of any greeting between Biden and MBS.

“We are focusing on meetings, not greetings,” a senior administration official told reporters.

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The official said, “The president will greet leaders as he does. There are no special rules for one leader or another. So I know we get that question a little bit, but for those of us who do the work, it really is — we focus on the substance of the meetings and not on the special greetings. It goes. Chief to about ten chiefs and will greet them as he usually does.”

Biden’s handshake – or not – was under the microscope During this trip after the White House said the president was looking to reduce contact with others amid the spread of a transmissible alternative to the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Biden has markedly deviated from that directive on multiple occasions during his two days in Israel after showing him some bumps after his arrival, fueling speculation that the directive from the White House was an elaborate excuse for Biden to avoid shaking hands with the crown prince. .

Biden in Saudi Arabia

The flight to Jeddah The White House has been particularly prickly since it began appearing earlier this year, given the president’s campaign promise to make the nation a “pariah” country for the Khashoggi murder.
Biden stopped short on Thursday By committing to raising Khashoggi’s murder directly with leaders in Saudi Arabia, he said he had “always” talked about human rights and that his views on the killing were “absolutely clear and positive”. US officials told CNN in the future From the trip that Biden was expected to take Khashoggi with Mohammed bin Salman.

Overnight, Saudi Arabia confirmed an expected announcement of opening its airspace to Israel Airlines. Biden praised the “historic decision” that followed “months of consistent diplomacy,” noting that he would become the first US president to fly from Israel to Saudi Arabia.

The trip comes amid rising gas prices and rampant inflation in the US and around the world, in part due to Russia’s invasion of Ukrainealthough the president and other officials dismissed Saudi Arabia’s rich oil supplies as a major catalyst for the trip.

A senior administration official said that meetings with the Saudi leadership will focus on strengthening the ongoing truce in Yemen, technological cooperation including in 5G, clean energy, global infrastructure and human rights as well as discussing global energy supplies.

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But the official indicated that the United States, Saudi Arabia and other officials in the Middle East will talk about energy security issues and that Biden will communicate with world leaders to reduce gas prices.

“I think the conversation is really focused, given the current market conditions, how do we see things? How do we see the next six months, and how do we keep the markets in balance in a way that contributes to continued economic growth? So that is our shared focus not only with the Saudis but with other producers” .

The official added, “And of course, the president said months ago that he would do everything in his power to bring prices down. That includes issuing our Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That includes diplomacy with other producers, and it includes, of course, domestic production.”

Biden in the West Bank

But before traveling to Saudi Arabia for the most part of his trip, Biden had a string of engagements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and numerous funding announcements aimed at helping the Palestinians.

Biden met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank before heading to Saudi Arabia for the final match From his trip to the Middle East closely monitored. The meeting with the Palestinian leader comes as Biden continues to call for it The two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Although he says he does not see such an arrangement materialized in the “near term”.

Biden acknowledged during his statements after his meeting with Abbas that such an agreement “seems far-fetched” and that “the ground is not ripe at this moment for the resumption of negotiations.”

However, he also noted that better relations between Israel and the Arab countries might lead to the momentum of a deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I believe that at this moment when Israel is improving relations with its neighbors throughout the region, we can harness the same momentum to reinvigorate the peace process between the Palestinian and Israeli people,” Biden said.

Biden said the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead while covering an Israeli military operation in the West Bank, is “a tremendous loss for the essential work of sharing with the world the story of the Palestinian people.”

Biden made remarks at Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, in which he announced that he was asking Congress to approve up to $100 million for the East Jerusalem hospital network. Former US President Donald Trump cut $25 million in planned funding for the network during his time in office.

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“It is part of our commitment to support the health and dignity of the Palestinian people,” he said, noting the “heavy toll” of the Covid-19 pandemic on the hospital system.

He continued, “Working together, I pray that the United States will help alleviate hospital debt and support targeted infrastructure upgrades, and major reforms in patient care to ensure long-term financial stability.”

The meetings follow Thursday’s session with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who on Friday said the president’s visit showed his “commitment to Israel’s military and diplomatic might” and “moved the entire country.”

On Friday morning, the President also announced the provision of an additional $201 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees to support Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Lebanon. SyriaAccording to the White House.

Biden said Israel is committed to working with the Palestinians to accelerate the implementation of the 4G network in Gaza and the West Bank, with the goal of launching that infrastructure by the end of next year.

“One of President Biden’s priorities was to rebuild relations with the Palestinians that the previous administration severed,” the official said.

The official said Biden will tell Abbas that Israel has agreed to increase access to the Allenby Bridge so that Palestinians and others can access it 24/7 by September. Israel controls the bridge, which is the only crossing point into Jordan for Palestinians from the West Bank.

“He will also announce steps to build grassroots support for peace, including through support for cooperation and professional exchanges between the Palestinian and Israeli health sectors as they work to build mutual trust,” the official said.

The United States will also provide an additional $15 million in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians in response to the growing food insecurity caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Before leaving for Saudi Arabia, the official said, Biden also visited the Church of the Nativity “to emphasize support for Christians facing challenges across the region.”

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.