JERUSALEM – Whether Joe Bidens first trip to the Middle East At the end of the presidency, success or failure will depend on what happens when the American leader looks Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the eye for the first time.
The world will be watching Friday’s much-anticipated meeting to see if the slip-up-prone US President and the notoriously vengeful Saudi prince can begin with the ebb and flow of repairing a rift between the two strategic partners the world oil supply hang in the balance.
There has been much speculation about both the choreography and the how bidenwho, as a presidential candidate, had vowed to treat the Saudis as “outcasts”. their human rights recordwill interact with the Crown Prince.
Asked Thursday if he would raise the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018a US-based journalist and critic of the kingdom, with Crown Prince Biden did not provide a direct answer.
The Democratic President agreed last year the publication of a US intelligence finding who identified the crown prince, known as MBS, likely approved Khashoggi’s assassination. The release of the report caused another rupture in US-Saudi Arabia relations.
“My views on Khashoggi were absolutely clear. And I never stopped talking about human rights,” Biden said. “However, the reason I am going to Saudi Arabia is much broader. It’s about advancing US interests — advancing US interests in a way that I think gives us an opportunity to affirm what I think we’ve been wrong about: our influence in the near future East.”
Biden arrives in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on the third day of a four-day trip across the Middle East. He spent the first two days meeting with Israeli officials and traveled to the West Bank to meet with the President of the Palestinian Authority on Friday Mahmoud Abbas and others before flying to Saudi Arabia.
In Jeddah, Biden will meet with Saudi King Salman and then hold a larger working meeting to be attended by Prince Mohammed and other senior Saudi officials, as well as the president’s top advisers.
When asked if Biden would shake hands with MBS, a senior administration official disagreed, noting that the Biden White House is “focused on the meetings, not the welcome.”
The Saudis took a step toward normalizing ties with Israel ahead of Biden’s visit, announcing early Friday that it would open its airspace to “all air carriers,” signaling the end of its long-standing ban on Israeli flights over its territory.
Biden hailed the decision as “an important step in building a more integrated and stable Middle East region,” adding that the decision “can help create momentum for Israel’s further integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia, to build”.
Biden will also attend a Saturday meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council leaders — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — before returning to Washington. The heads of state and government of the Middle East neighbors Egypt, Iraq and Jordan will also take part.
The Saudi visit is one of the most sensitive Biden has faced on the international scene. Any kind of respectful greeting that Biden can pull off and the Saudi crown prince can look back on could help both sides soothe ties.
But Biden could also open it fidgeting in the polls at home, to deeper criticism that he is stepping back from his pledges to put human rights at the heart of foreign policy.
Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz said that while visiting Saudi Arabia Biden backed out about human rights.
“It’s actually a very big backtrack,” Cengiz said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. “It’s heartbreaking and disappointing. And Biden will lose his moral authority if he puts oil and expediency ahead of principles and values.”
Bidens criticism of the Saudis as a candidate has become increasingly spirited in recent months Russia’s war against Ukraine exacerbated the already global shortage of oil and gas supplies. Elevated Gasoline prices have fueled inflation in the United States to its highest level in four decades.
Saudi political scientist Turki al Hamad said he was not optimistic about the prospects for Biden’s trip.
“Biden and his team will come and keep their eyes on the US election and improve the Democrats’ situation by reaching an agreement to increase oil production,” Hamad tweeted, saying that “the Saudi leadership doesn’t matter.”
Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former US State Department official, said Biden looks forward to visiting Saudi Arabia “in the same way I would look forward to a root canal.”
Miller contrasted Biden with his predecessor, President Donald Trump, who was visiting Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip. This trip was highlighted by an enigmatic photo of the guides gathered around a luminous sphere and Trump follows suit briefly a ceremonial sword dance.
With Biden and Prince Mohammed, “there won’t be a lot of sword dances, smiling photo ops, or warm hugs,” Miller said.
Knickmeyer reported from Sacramento, California and Megerian from Washington.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/07/15/biden-to-meet-saudi-king-prince-mbs-after-human-rights-rift/ Biden meets Saudi King Prince MBS after human rights rift