Speculation about such a trip in June was rife, but according to the New York Times, it has now been confirmed: the President of the United States “has decided to go to Riyadh this month to rebuild relations with the oil kingdom as he seeks to drive down gas prices at home and isolate Russia internationally.”
There, “he will meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman”, nicknamed “MBS”, and other leaders of Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, the daily added.
He said that the logistical details and the timetable had yet to be confirmed, but that the visit would be added to a trip already planned for the end of June to Israel, Germany for the G7 summit and Spain for that of NATO.
The Washington Post also reported on the trip, quoting anonymous officials, stressing that the “tete-a-tete” with the powerful prince would come after several “discreet” missions in the rich Gulf country of his adviser for the Middle East. , Brett McGurk, and his envoy for energy affairs, Amos Hochstein, who tirelessly plead for an increase in crude oil production in order to bring down inflation.
“The president is looking forward to the opportunity to engage with leaders in the Middle East, but I have nothing to announce today,” the White House spokeswoman said Thursday. Karine Jean-Pierre.
But if Joe Biden “believes that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with a foreign leader and that such engagement can bring results, then he will,” a senior official told AFP. Biden administration official on condition of anonymity, without confirming the trip.
– “Recalibrage” –
Before his election, Joe Biden had ruled that Saudi Arabia should be treated as a “pariah” state because of the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Once in power, the Democrat published in February 2021 the US intelligence report accusing “MBS” of having “validated” the murder.
Washington then spoke of a “recalibration” of the relationship with this strategic Gulf partner, to turn the page on the close proximity of Donald Trump’s presidency without going as far as a break. Joe Biden’s entourage explained that the president would only speak to King Salman and not to the prince, de facto leader of the country and privileged interlocutor of his Republican predecessor.
The United States has also shown its intention to put human rights back at the heart of its dialogue with Saudi leaders, and multiplied efforts to end the war in Yemen, where Ryad militarily supports the government against the Houthi rebels.
The decision to move to Saudi Arabia, if confirmed, also comes at a time when the international community has snatched the two-month renewal of a fragile truce in Yemen. Joe Biden on Thursday hailed the “courageous leadership” of Saudi leaders in this regard.
It also comes as OPEC, a cartel of oil-exporting countries led by Riyadh, decided on Thursday to boost its production after months of wait-and-see despite soaring prices, thus responding to calls from Westerners.
– “Bloody handshake” –
On Thursday, the U.S. official on condition of anonymity downplayed the human rights issue, saying the Biden administration is concerned about the issue in Saudi “as it is with many countries with whom we share interests.”
“There are also strategic priorities that are important to address, and our contacts and our diplomatic work has recently intensified,” he added.
But the face-to-face with “MBS” risks making the American Congress cringe, even in the Democratic ranks of the president where the sulphurous personality of the crown prince is much criticized.
Opponents of the Saudi regime also criticized: “MBS has blood on his hands. If Biden gives him the meeting he desperately needs, this bloody handshake will send a clear message to bullies everywhere: you can count. on America for forever betraying its values,” said Abdullah Alaoudh, the son of imprisoned reform theologian Salman al-Odah.
In a rare interview with foreign media published in March by The Atlantic magazine, Mohammed bin Salman hinted that a deterioration in relations with Saudi Arabia could harm Joe Biden. “It’s up to him to think about America’s interests,” he said.
Asked to say if the 79-year-old American president had misunderstood his personality, the young Saudi leader had dropped: “I just don’t care.”