- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill softened their opposition to U.S. engagement with Saudi Arabia once the White House confirmed Tuesday that President Biden will visit the county next month, reversing his pledge to make the kingdom a “pariah.”

The visit is expected to include interaction with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the U.S. intelligence community implicated in the 2018 killing and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr. Biden made a campaign promise to make Saudi Arabia an international “pariah” because of the killing and to take a tougher stance on the kingdom’s human rights record.

The White House said “advancing human rights” would be on the docket but did not mention Khashoggi.

Mr. Biden is expected to push oil-rich Saudis to increase global supply and help lower U.S. gas prices. 

On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders justified the shift toward Saudi by saying “circumstances have changed” including record gas prices, 40-year-high inflation and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

SEE ALSO: White House confirms Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia

“There’s no doubt we think the Saudis’ violation of human rights, the Khashoggi murder — dismemberment, horrific actions — and to the extent that the crown prince seems to be responsible for that, is a problem. But circumstances have changed very badly,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the visit would demonstrate Mr. Biden’s moxie.

“This president — unlike the previous president — is not afraid to talk tough with foreign leaders,” he said. “I have every confidence that President Biden will handle this very well.”

Other Democrats, however, frowned upon Mr. Biden lending legitimacy to Mr. bin Salman and appearing to put oil above all else.

“There’s no accountability for [Mr. bin Salman]’s role in ordering the murder of a Virginian and journalist. I wouldn’t do it,” Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, told The Washington Times. “Circumstances change — yeah, you have to analyze that. But I don’t think that cleanses the blood stain off [Mr. bin Salman].”

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Mr. Khashoggi, slammed Mr. Biden over reports in recent days that the White House was considering a Saudi trip.

“President Biden’s decision to meet [Mr. bin Salman] is horribly upsetting to me and supporters of freedom and justice everywhere,” she said in a statement to CNN.

Mr. Biden will be in Saudi Arabia at the tail-end of a July 13-16 trip to the Middle East that will begin with stops in Israel and the West Bank, where security will top the agenda.

The White House said the engagement with Saudi Arabia is not about pumping more oil to lower U.S gasoline prices but about energy security in the region.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted that Mr. Biden was not overlooking Mr. Khashoggi’s murder and that human rights would be part of the conversation. She skirted a question about the amount of interaction Mr. Biden will have with Mr. bin Salman.

“We’re not overlooking any conduct that happened before the president took office,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “It’s important to also emphasize that while we re-collaborate relationships, we are not looking to rupture relationships, as well.”

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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