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Biden opts to visit Saudi Arabia as OPEC+ boosts oil production

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden has decided to travel to Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks and is set to meet with the kingdom’s crown prince, whom he once shunned for his brutality. It’s a visit that comes together as OPEC+ announced Thursday it will pump more oil amid skyrocketing energy costs around the globe.

Biden’s first trip to the Saudi kingdom as president is expected to take place later this month, but details have not yet been finalized, a person familiar with the planning told The Associated Press.

The White House on Thursday commended Saudi Arabia for its role in securing an OPEC+ commitment to pump more oil, and the president himself hailed the Saudis for agreeing to extend the ceasefire in their eight-year war with Yemen, which also has was announced on Thursday.

“Saudi Arabia has shown bold leadership by taking early initiatives to endorse and implement the terms of the United Nations-led ceasefire,” Biden said in a statement after the ceasefire’s 60-day extension was announced.

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Those warm words stand in sharp contrast to some of Biden’s previous rhetoric about the oil-rich kingdom. As a candidate, he vowed to treat the Saudis as “outcasts” over the 2018 killing and dismemberment of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s brutal policies. US intelligence officials investigated that the Saudi Crown Prince likely approved the journalist’s assassination.

Biden administration officials have been working behind the scenes to mend ties, discussing shared strategic interests related to security and oil with their Saudi counterparts. The effort has had an impact as the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the world’s second-largest crude oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, and a Saudi-Russia-brokered cap on oil production pushed up crude prices and prices that Americans pay at the pump, have soared to record highs.

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Biden and the Democrats are facing mounting voter anger over high prices, making tight oil supplies a major political burden.

Appeals by the US and its allies to the OPEC+ group – the OPEC countries plus Russia – to boost production more seemed to be bearing fruit on Thursday. OPEC announced it would increase production by 648,000 barrels per day in July and August, bringing modest relief to a struggling global economy.

The hike didn’t seem to ease concerns about a tight supply. Oil prices rose after OPEC+ announced the hike.

In a statement, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged Saudi Arabia’s role “in building consensus” within the oil-producing bloc. She also thanked the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq.

Jean-Pierre also directly quoted “the leadership of King Salman and the Crown Prince” on Thursday in announcing an extended UN ceasefire in Yemen, where Saudi-led forces have been waging an unsuccessful war to contain that country’s Houthi rebels in to flee.

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The White House is considering a Biden visit, which would also include a meeting of leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – as well as Egypt, Iraq and Jordan who are with the Planning White House confidant, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the uncompleted trip.

According to the person, Biden is expected to meet with Prince Mohammed during the visit.

Such a meeting could ease a tense and uncertain period in the partnership between Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, and the United States, the world’s largest economic and military power, which has endured for more than three-quarters of a century.

But it also risks public humiliation for them US leader who vowed to make a ‘pariah’ in 2019 the Saudi royal family on the assassination of Khashoggi.

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Biden is expected to travel to Europe in late June and could make a stopover in Saudi Arabia to meet with Prince Mohammed, Saudi King Salman and other leaders. If he does, Biden would likely visit Israel as well.

Israeli officials, in their dispute with the Biden administration, have argued that US relations with Arab capitals, including Riyadh, are vital to Israel’s security and overall stability in the region. The visit could also provide an opportunity to begin talks on a longer-term project to normalize Israeli-Saudi relations, which the government sees as a longer-term plan.

And while the Biden administration remains concerned about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, presidential advisers credit the Saudis with showing greater restraint in their conflict with Yemen since Biden took office.

White House officials await criticism from Democratic allies and human rights activists who accuse Biden of backtracking on human rights, but suggest a credible Middle East strategy is unsustainable in the long term without key leaders in the kingdom.

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Biden repeatedly said early in his presidency that the world is at a pivotal moment in history when democracies must show they can outperform autocracies. The government doesn’t want countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia with worrying human rights records to fall into the camp of Moscow and Beijing.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a Washington audience on Wednesday that Biden’s assumption of office is to “recalibrate the relationship with Saudi Arabia and ensure that that relationship serves both our own interests and our values ​​as we move forward — but also preserve it.” it.”

“And we’ve largely done that,” said Blinken.

US officials were recently in the region to speak with Saudi officials about energy supplies, the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal and the war in Yemen.

Frequent, warm visits by Saudi, Russian and Chinese officials during the freeze between Biden and the Saudi crown prince have heightened Western concerns that Saudi Arabia is breaking with Western strategic interests.

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Tight oil supplies are not only helping to keep gas prices high for consumers around the world, but are also helping Russia fund its invasion of Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

For their part, officials in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates see Biden as the latest in a series of US presidents to neglect the US military’s longstanding protector role in the Gulf while the United States seeks to focus on China.

These security concerns in the Gulf may be alleviated by the US move last year to place control of its forces in Israel under US central command. This effectively increases interaction between Israel’s US-equipped military and Arab forces under the US military umbrella, said Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel and now a distinguished Atlantic Council official.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/02/pledge-of-more-oil-heightens-odds-of-saudi-trip-for-biden/ Biden opts to visit Saudi Arabia as OPEC+ boosts oil production

Sarah Y. Kim

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