Air Force One landed in Jeddah, western Saudi Arabia, after a direct flight from Israel, a first as Washington seeks to normalize relations between its two most important partners in the Middle East.
Joe Biden was greeted at the royal palace in Jeddah by Mohammed bin Salman, nicknamed MBS, doing a fist “check” with the young and powerful 36-year-old de facto ruler of the Saudi kingdom.
In Jeddah, Joe Biden also met King Salman, sick and 86 years old, before a “working session” led by Prince Mohammed, essential on all issues, from oil to the military.
The meeting between Messrs. Biden and bin Salman is the high point of this Middle East tour, as Washington seeks to convince the kingdom to open the floodgates on its oil production. The challenge: to lower the price of a gallon of gasoline as the midterm elections in the United States approach.
But when he was still a candidate, Joe Biden promised to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah”, in particular because of the 2018 assassination of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi. Once elected, he had declassified a damning report on the responsibility of the prince in this murder.
In Jeddah, Joe Biden said he warned the crown prince of Saudi Arabia of a “response” from him if further attacks on dissidents were to occur, calling the killing of Khashoggi “scandalous”.
“I just made it clear that if something like this happens again, they will have this answer and much more,” he told reporters, saying he brought up the matter “at the very beginning” of the meeting with MBS. .
The Saudi authorities have always denied direct responsibility for the crown prince in this murder.
The journalist’s widow, Hatice Cengiz, posted a tweet with a screenshot of her late husband’s account: “Is this how demand as promised accountability for my murder?”
“The blood of MBS’s next victim is on your hands,” it added, along with a photo of the fist check Mr Biden gave the Saudi prince.
Joe Biden’s visit was particularly criticized by human rights defenders, with the powerful Gulf monarchy accused of serious violations and fierce repression of its opponents.
Far from human rights issues, among the objectives of Joe Biden’s tour are attempts to bring Saudis and Israelis closer together.
During his speech in Jeddah, Joe Biden announced that international peacekeeping forces, including American troops, will leave Tiran, one of the two strategic islands, with Sanafir, located in the Red Sea, between Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The departure of this force, installed for 40 years, must occur “by the end of the year”, said the White House in a document, after Israel indicated that it had “no objection” to the transfer from the two islands of Egypt to Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, Ryad for its part announced the opening of its airspace to “all carriers”, including Israeli, a “historic” decision for Joe Biden.
– Arab-American summit –
These two initiatives could, according to analysts, pave the way for a possible rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, a country which notably normalized its relations in 2020 with two other Gulf countries: the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The Saudi announcement came before Mr. Biden’s unprecedented direct Tel Aviv / Jeddah (west) flight, the first of its kind from Israel to Saudi Arabia which does not officially recognize the Jewish state. His predecessor, Donald Trump, flew in the opposite direction from Saudi Arabia to Israel.
On Saturday, Mr. Biden will take part in a summit of leaders of the Gulf Arab monarchies also attended by other Arab leaders, who began arriving on Saturday evening.
An opportunity to push the normalization initiated by Israel with several Arab countries, in particular with the aim of facing Iran.
However, Ryad conditions the establishment of official links with the Jewish state to a resolution of the Palestinian question, regularly denouncing the occupation and the colonization of the Palestinian territories.
Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, Joe Biden announced $100 million in aid to the hospital network in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian sector of the Holy City occupied by Israel.
He then met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestinian territory occupied by Israel.