Sunday, 3 Jul 2022

Biden breaks Saudi ‘pariah’ pledge to talk oil with crown prince

Washington: US President Joe Biden will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a trip to the Middle East in July, breaking a campaign pledge to make the kingdom a “pariah” as the president struggles to combat record-high petrol prices.

Weeks after taking office, Biden shifted US policy on Saudi Arabia, adopting a tougher stance over the kingdom’s human rights record and in particular the killing and dismembering of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018. US intelligence implicated the prince in the murder. The Saudi government has denied any involvement by him.

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman is being courted over his ability to offset oil embargoes directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit:AP

Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump had a close relationship with the prince, the defacto ruler of the country. But while a presidential candidate in 2019, Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia “pay the price, and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are” over the killing of Khashoggi. The White House has said, as recently as this month, that Biden’s view has not changed.

The talks with the crown prince – part of Biden’s first trip to the region – are seen by rights advocates as at odds with his promise to put human rights at the heart of US foreign policy. Biden’s trip from July 13 to July 16 will also include a stop in Israel and the occupied West Bank.

A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that if Biden “determines it’s in his interest to engage with any particular leader, and if such an engagement can deliver results, then he will do so”.

The official pointed to the crown prince’s role securing an extension of a UN-brokered truce between Yemen’s warring parties as an example of what he said was a need to engage with Saudi Arabia as way to help bring peace and security to the region.

Biden’s visit to the kingdom comes after the OPEC+ group of oil-producing nations, led by Saudi Arabia, agreed to boost oil production to offset Russian losses – following Western sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Washington’s desire to improve ties with Gulf monarchies has become more urgent following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, which highlighted the relevance of Gulf oil producers as Europe looks to cut its energy dependence on Russia.

The United States is also trying to further isolate Russia over the Ukraine war, urging Gulf states to publicly condemn Moscow, three Western diplomats said. Gulf states have so far tried to maintain what they say is a neutral position, but some Western diplomats view that as siding with Moscow.

Biden will meet in Saudi Arabia with regional leaders including Iraq, Egypt and Jordan as part of a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

In Israel from July 13 for two days. Biden will emphasise the US commitment to the country, which includes billions of dollars in military support. He will hold a virtual summit with the leaders of Israel, India and the United Arab Emirates.

Biden will also travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other leaders to reaffirm his commitment to a two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The visit will help “integrate Israel into the Middle East,” the Israeli prime minister’s office said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia has signalled its backing for the so-called Abraham Accords under which the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain forged relations with Israel two years ago. But Riyadh has stopped short of formally recognising Israel.

Reuters

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