- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2022

President Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia as part of a Middle East trip in mid-July, the White House said Tuesday after days of speculation about whether the U.S. leader would head to the kingdom after a stop in Israel.

Mr. Biden‘s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said in a statement that the president will discuss a “range of bilateral, regional and global issues” with the Saudis as part of a meeting in Jeddah with nine regional leaders.

The statement said “advancing human rights” would be on the docket but did not mention journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in 2018 at a Saudi consulate in Turkey after being sharply critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Mr. Biden in 2019 referred to Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” state because of the Khashoggi murder.

However, several outlets reported Tuesday that Mr. Biden is expected to interact with the crown prince, who is the kingdom’s de facto ruler, in some capacity during meetings of the Summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, or the GCC+3.

Topics will include “support to the U.N.-mediated truce in Yemen, which has led to the most peaceful period there since war began seven years ago,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “He will also discuss means for expanding regional economic and security cooperation, including new and promising infrastructure and climate initiatives, as well as deterring threats from Iran, advancing human rights, and ensuring global energy and food security.”

Mr. Biden‘s July 13-16 trip will start in Israel, where he will meet with Israeli leaders and discuss “security, prosperity, and its increasing integration into the greater region.”

“The president will also visit the West Bank to consult with the Palestinian Authority and to reiterate his strong support for a two-state solution, with equal measures of security, freedom, and opportunity for the Palestinian people,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.

The White House had signaled Mr. Biden‘s intent to visit Saudi Arabia, a key oil producer, in recent days but hadn’t confirmed the trip, leading to questions about whether a visit would be untenable given questions about the kingdom’s record on human rights and ties to Khashoggi’s murder.

Ms. Jean-Pierre on Monday said the U.S. has imposed visa restrictions and sanctions on various Saudi entities, including Saudi Royal Guard’s Rapid Intervention Force.

The White House said Mr. Biden was invited by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

“The president appreciates King Salman’s leadership and his invitation,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “He looks forward to this important visit to Saudi Arabia, which has been a strategic partner of the United States for nearly eight decades.”

Mr. Biden‘s visit coincides with soaring gas prices that average over $5 across the U.S.

The White House rejected suggestions Mr. Biden will essentially the Saudis to pump more oil to ease supply pressures, though said energy is always a topic of discussion with the kingdom.

“To view engagement with Saudi Arabia and energy security as asking for oil is simply wrong and a misunderstanding of both the complexity of that issue and our multifaceted discussions with the Saudis,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said Monday. “That said, Saudi Arabia is the chair, as you know, of OPEC Plus and its largest exporter. Of course, we discuss energy with the Saudi government, as we do with oil producers around the world.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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