US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that one of the goals of his upcoming trip to the Middle East was “to deepen Israel’s integration in the region.”
“I think we’ll be able to do [that]which is good – good for peace and good for Israeli security,” he told a news conference on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Spain.
“That’s why Israeli leaders came out so strongly in favor of my trip to Saudi Arabia. [Arabia]Biden added, publicly revealing Jerusalem’s lobbying for him to visit Jeddah, amid apprehensions from some in his party about the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record.
Biden will visit Israel and the West Bank and July 13-14 before continuing to Saudi Arabia, where he will take part in the two-day annual GCC+3 summit of regional leaders from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, in addition to Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
Israel has moved to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, seeing acceptance of the Gulf kingdom as essential for broader integration in the region. As such, he urged administration officials to soften Riyadh despite Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s perceived role in the murder of US journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Jerusalem has taken a similar approach in lobbying for improved US-Egyptian relations despite Cairo’s own checkered human rights record.
Biden did not elaborate on how the trip will lead to Israel’s integration into the region, but Axios reported Wednesday that the United States is close to successfully brokering a deal that will see a pair of islands in the Red Sea transferred from Egypt to Saudi Arabia in a deal that will see Riyadh move towards normalizing relations with Israel, whose approval is required for the deal to pass.
Biden insisted Thursday that the visit to Israel was “really significant” in itself and would “affirm the unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States.”
The president notably made no mention of the Palestinians in his response to a reporter’s question about the trip, an additional clue as to its magnitude.
Although there was speculation in Israel that Biden would delay his visit, given the political upheavals of the past month, the White House was adamant from the outset that such issues were not part of his calculation. . The United States expected Naftali Bennett to be prime minister when Biden arrives in two weeks, but is moving ahead with planning as Yair Lapid prepares to replace him as prime minister on Friday.
Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia has raised eyebrows, given his promise during the campaign to treat Riyadh as a “pariah” on its human rights record. But with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic receding to unprecedented heights at the pump, the President has changed his approach to ensure better cooperation from a key Middle East ally. East.
Yet he tried to insist that the decision to go to Jeddah was only circumstantial. “It’s in Saudi Arabia, but it’s not about Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Biden also said he would not seek to pressure Riyadh to increase oil production to offset rising gas prices in the United States. “I told them that I thought they should increase oil production, generically – not for the Saudis in particular,” he said.
Biden has confirmed that he will “see” Saudi crown Muhammad bin Salman, but only as part of the larger GCC+3 meeting. He will instead meet Saudi King Salman one-on-one.
“The main thing here is that we will also try to reduce the death toll in the war that is taking place in Yemen,” he said. “There’s a whole range of things that go way beyond anything to do with Saudi Arabia. [Arabia] especially.
“They have real concerns about what’s happening in Iran and elsewhere in terms of security as well,” Biden added.