President Joe Biden is doing an abrupt policy about-face and will meet next month with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after years of denouncing the country’s human rights record.
What Happened: The Wall Street Journal reported that Biden has been a longtime critic of the Saudi government’s approach to human rights, particularly in regard to the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. A U.S. intelligence assessment released last year by the Biden administration concluded Prince Mohammed approved of the operation to kill Khashoggi, which the prince has vehemently denied.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden referred to Saudi Arabia as a pariah state. However, with the ongoing economic difficulties spurred by record-high fuel prices, Biden will be more cordial in meeting with both Saudi leaders and with officials from other Middle Eastern countries during the Gulf Cooperation Council being hosted by the prince.
Although the prince runs the nation’s daily affairs on behalf of his father, the 86-year-old King Salman, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre omitted mention of his position in announcing the trip and insisted Biden is “not going to change his views on human rights.”
“The president appreciates King Salman’s leadership and his invitation,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “He looks forward to this important visit to Saudi Arabia, which has been a strategic partner of the United States for nearly eight decades.”
What Else Happened: After his time in Saudi Arabia, Biden will travel to Israel and is expected to meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Biden is also scheduled to meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank for what a senior administration official described as “reaffirming his lifelong commitment to a two-state solution.”
The trips mark the first time Biden has journeyed to the Middle East since he has become president — his earlier foreign trips have focused on Europe and Asia. In contrast, Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump made Saudi Arabia and Israel his first foreign visits and noted that his flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel marked the first time an airplane traveled directly between the two countries.
Photo: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, courtesy of the World Tourism Organization / Flickr Creative Commons
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