US President Biden to visit Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Salman

“While we recalibrate relations, we’re not seeking to rupture relations [with Saudi Arabia],” a senior US official said, adding that Riyadh has been a strategic partner of Washington for eight decades.

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Joe Biden will make his first trip as US president to Saudi Arabia from July 15-16 at the invitation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Kingdom’s Royal Court announced on Tuesday.

The president is scheduled to meet with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Biden’s trip to the Middle East from July 13-16 will also include stops in Israel and the West Bank, the White House announced.

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The president’s visit will reinforce Washington’s “iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity and attend a Summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council,” according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. The GCC summit will also include Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan.

While in the region, the US president will meet with more than a dozen regional leaders to advance US security, economic, and diplomatic interests.

His first stop will be in Israel before visiting the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In Israel, Biden will discuss increasing the country’s integration into the greater region.

A senior administration official said Biden would meet Abbas in Bethlehem but did not elaborate further.

In the West Bank, he will double down on his “strong support” for a two-state solution with equal measures of security, freedom and opportunity for Palestinians, the White House statement from Jean-Pierre read.

Saudi Arabia

Following his stops in Israel and the West Bank, the president will take a rare direct flight from Israel to Jeddah.

“The President appreciates King Salman’s leadership and his invitation. He looks forward to this important visit to Saudi Arabia, which has been a strategic partner of the United States for nearly eight decades,” Jean-Pierre said.

The US president will take the chance to meet with Saudi officials to discuss the war in Yemen while also looking at ways to expand “regional economic and security cooperation.”

Providing more details on this, the senior administration official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said that new initiatives in infrastructure and climate would be unveiled. “And I think we’re really looking forward and trying to build on some of the opportunities in ways that can benefit both the region, but most importantly, the United States and the American people.”

But deterring threats from Iran, human rights, and ensuring global energy and food security will also figure high in these meetings.

The US official said “unique” naval task forces would be unveiled in cooperation with the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and in the Red Sea.

As ties between the US and Saudi Arabia quickly soured following Biden’s election, the senior administration official praised Riyadh ahead of the American president’s trip.

Biden and his administration repeatedly said they wanted to “recalibrate” ties with Saudi Arabia and made several foreign policy moves targeting Riyadh. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and soaring energy prices being felt by Americans, Biden sought Riyadh’s help.

Another priority of Biden’s was to end the war in Yemen, which Saudi Arabia has been heavily involved in helping do. A two-month truce between warring sides was recently extended for another two months.

“The truce in Yemen is a clear example of where our engagement with the Saudis delivered results,” the official said when a Washington Post reporter pressed about why the president will meet with Saudi leaders, including the Crown Prince.

The official said Biden expected to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, their first meeting since Biden became president. “And I have to say, the Saudi Crown Prince played a critical role in securing the extension of the truce that was in place since April,” the official said.

The official also noted that 70,000 Americans working and living in Saudi Arabia are threatened by missiles and drones.

The Iran-backed Houthis have fired hundreds of bomb-laden drones and ballistic missiles at civilian targets inside Saudi Arabia and even targeted the UAE earlier this year.

Energy security

Speaking to reporters, the official said energy security, “which of course is a pressing issue,” would be a topic of engagement during the summit in Saudi Arabia.

“We welcome the announcement from OPEC+, where Saudi Arabia is the leading producer and exporter, to raise its planned supply increases this summer by 50 percent,” the official said.

Two weeks ago, OPEC+ said the organization would increase oil output by 648,000 barrels per day in July and August, after heavy lobbying from Europe and the US.

Multiple attempts by US officials to get Saudi Arabia to up its oil production amid the Russian invasion, including trips to Saudi Arabia by the top White House official for the Middle East, Brett McGurk, and US energy advisor Amos Hochstein, came up empty-handed.

But a recent change of tone by the Biden administration and a noticeably more amicable tone appears to have altered the stances of Gulf countries.

“While we recalibrate relations, we’re not seeking to rupture relations [with Saudi Arabia]. Saudi Arabia has been a strategic partner of the United States for eight decades, and we carry a host of interests with Saudi Arabia from containing Iran to counterterrorism,” the official said.

Read more: US lawmakers call for plan to integrate Middle East air defenses, confront Iran

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