The bite goes to Saudi Arabia amid tensions over oil Khashoggi kills

JERUSALEM / JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 15 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will discuss energy supply, human rights and security cooperation in Saudi Arabia on Friday on a journey designed to reset US relations with a country he once promised to make a “pariah” on the world stage.

Biden will hold meetings with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS, along with other government officials, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

The visit will be followed closely for body language and rhetoric. The US intelligence service concluded that MbS directly approved the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, while the Crown Prince denies having a role in the killing.

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White House advisers have declined to say whether Biden will shake hands with the prince, the de facto ruler of the kingdom. Biden will meet with a broader set of Arab leaders at a summit in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on Saturday.

“The president will meet about a dozen leaders and he will greet them as he usually does,” the administration official said.

At the start of Biden’s trip to the Middle East, officials said he would avoid close contacts, such as shaking hands, as a precaution against COVID-19. But the president ended up engaging in handshakes in Israel. Read more

Biden said Thursday that his stance on Khashoggi’s assassination was “absolutely” clear. Biden made his “pariah” comment less than two years ago after the journalist’s assassination and while campaigning for the president. Read more

Biden said he would raise human rights in Saudi Arabia, but did not say specifically whether he would talk about the Khashoggi assassination with its leaders.

Saudi Ambassador to the United States Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, writes in the American magazine Politico, reiterated the kingdom’s “disgust” for the killing and described it as a gruesome cruelty, saying it can not define the ties between the United States and Saudi.

She said the relationship should not be seen in the “outdated and reductionist” oil-for-security paradigm either.

“The world has changed, and the existential dangers we all face, including food and energy security and climate change, cannot be solved without an effective US-Saudi alliance.”

Energy and security interests led the president and his aides to decide not to isolate the kingdom, the world’s leading oil exporter and regional powerhouse, which has strengthened ties with Russia and China, especially in a time of Gulf concern over the perceived US liberation from the region.

The United States is eager to see Saudi Arabia and its OPEC partners pump more oil to help reduce high gas prices and ease the highest US inflation in four decades.

“The Saudis certainly intend to increase capacity, and with such high oil prices, they can afford to do so, especially as they see production constraints elsewhere in a market that is still growing,” said Daniel Yergin, S&P Global’s vice president and expert. in the world’s energy markets.

“FOUNDING” MOVEMENT

Biden will encourage peace and push for a more integrated Middle East during his journey, the administration official said. Topics will include the strengthening of a ceasefire in the Yemeni war, “balance” in the energy markets and technological cooperation in the field of 5G and 6G.

Prior to the visit, Saudi Arabia said it would open its airspace to all airlines and pave the way for more flights to and from Israel, in what Biden described as a historic and important step towards building a more integrated and stable Middle East. Read more

“Thanks to months of constant diplomacy between my administration and Saudi Arabia, it is finally a reality,” Biden said in a statement. “I will do everything I can, through direct diplomacy and leader-to-leader engagement, to continue to promote this groundbreaking process.”

Biden will be the first U.S. president to fly from Israel directly to Jeddah, a move that, according to the White House, represents a “small symbol” of warming Israeli-Saudi ties. Two years ago, Riyadh gave a tacit nod to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize relations with Israel.

The US-brokered agreements known as the Abraham Agreement established a new axis in the region, with the Gulf states sharing Israel’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and proxy networks. Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shia Muslim Iran have been battling for regional influence for years, but began direct talks last year in an effort to curb tensions.

The Saudi ambassador said US-Saudi efforts to secure peace and security should focus on strengthening cooperation and “strengthening a rules-based system” to confront “the vision of chaos promoted by Iran”.

During his visit to Israel on the first part of the trip to the Middle East, Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed a joint pledge to deny Iran nuclear weapons, which the Islamic Republic refuses to seek. Read more

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Further reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Written by Jeff Mason; further reporting by Jeff Mason and David Gaffen; Edited by Mary Milliken, Cynthia Osterman, Michael Perry and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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