Biden 'lining up a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Biden ‘lining up a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman NEXT MONTH’ – after calling Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah’ with ‘no redeeming social value’ and slamming his role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi

Officials are reportedly trying to set up a meeting next month between Joe Biden and Saudi Arabia‘s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the latest sign of how the American president has backed down from promising to make the country ‘pay the price’ for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. 

The plans represent months of diplomatic maneuvering as Biden looks for better relations with the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil amid crippling gas prices at home.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But the planning – reported on Thursday – shows how a candidate who slammed Saudi Arabi as a ‘pariah’ must balance a need for energy with human rights.

Multiple sources told CNN that Biden administration officials are laying the groundwork for a meeting while the president travels overseas next month.

Saudi Arabia holds the presidency of the Gulf Cooperation Council, so a meeting would probably coincide with a gathering of the G.C.C. in Riyadh.

‘You should count on something like this happening, it just comes down to when, not if,’ said a former US official familiar with the planning. 

President Joe Biden

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Officials are reportedly laying the groundwork for a meeting next month between President Joe Biden and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia

A meeting would represent a climbdown by Biden who said Saudi Arabia 'should pay the price' for murdering dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi

A meeting would represent a climbdown by Biden who said Saudi Arabia ‘should pay the price’ for murdering dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Who is the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman?

The Crown Prince - known simply as MBS - (pictured at a conference in Riyadh in October) was warmly embraced by the West for his liberal reforms, but the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has left his reputation severely tarnished

The Crown Prince – known simply as MBS – (pictured at a conference in Riyadh in October) was warmly embraced by the West for his liberal reforms, but the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has left his reputation severely tarnished

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is known as the true power behind the throne in Saudi Arabia.

His father, King Salman, was made ruler in 2015, and his son has been given a huge amount of say in how the country is government.

He won plaudits from Western leaders after he introduced some moderate reforms – allowing women in Saudi Arabia to drive for the first time ever and introducing cinemas to the country.

The Crown Prince – known simply as MBS – also reigned in the country’s fierce and ultra conservative religious police.

Leaders including Theresa May and Donald Trump have rolled out the red carpet for him during his lavish visits.

But the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi has severely damaged his reputation.

MBS has been accused of ordering the journalist’s murder, and the killing sparked calls for him to be replaced as Crown Prince.

While the Saudi authorities have publicly insisted the Prince does not have blood on his hands and did not order the killing, his reputation has been badly tarnished.

He also has directed the Saudi war in Yemen, were the kingdom has been accused of breaching international human rights law and plunging millions into famine.  

And questions were already raised about how ruthlessly he will crush opposition after he imprisoned Saudi royals in the country’s five star Ritz hotel last year.

He said he locked them up in a massive anti-corruption drove.

But his critics said that the move was a way for MBS to purge his political rivals.

Advertisement

Biden has made a point of not engaging directly with MBS since taking office.

Instead he speaks with the crown prince’s father, King Salman, the ailing 86-year old ruler. 

He made no secret of his views on MBS and his role in the killing of Khashoggi, a dissident and Washington Post columnist, who held U.S. residency.

‘I would make it very clear we were not going to in fact sell more weapons to them, Biden said during a 2019 Democratic presidential debate. 

‘We were going to in fact make them pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are.’

U.S. intelligence officials concluded that the crown prince himself ordered the killing of Khashoggi, who was drugged and dismembered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. 

Evidence reportedly included intercepts of MBS’s phone calls in the run-up to the murder as well as communications between the kill team and a senior aide to the crown prince. 

During the debate, Biden went further in his condemnation and said he saw ‘very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia.’

His administration sanctioned Saudi officials who were part of the kill team.

However, it did not take action against MBS for fear of alienating a leader it sees as a crucial partner in tackling terrorism and reining in Iran’s regional ambitions. 

Even so, Biden announced soon after taking office that he was ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and was reversing President Donald Trump’s decision to designate Houthi rebels as terrorists.

In the meantime, CNN reported that the National Security Council’s Middle East Coordinator Brett McGurk and the State Department’s Senior Adviser for Global Energy Security Amos Hochstein have made four trips to Riyadh since December as they try to repair the relationship.

In February, the met with MBS to make preparations for a meeting with Biden.  

On Tuesday, Khalid bin Salman – younger brother to MBS – was in Washington where he met with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan among others.

On Thursday, he was at the Pentagon to meet Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Colin Kahl.

‘They conferred on a broad range of security challenges throughout the Middle East region, including the war in Yemen, maritime threats, and violent extremist organizations,’ said the Department of Defense.

‘The delegations spoke extensively about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, and Dr. Kahl and HRH Prince Salman agreed to enhance efforts to counter the smuggling of illicit weapons to violent non-state groups in the region.’

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency also made a previously-unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia last month where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), it was reported on Tuesday. 

CIA Director Bill Burns’ visit to the city of Jeddah occurred in mid-April, the Wall Street Journal reported, during a period marked by critically low relations between the Saudi and American governments. 

It all points to a possible meeting towards the end of June. 

Biden is due to visit Germany for a G7 summit and Spain for a N.A.T.O. meeting.

He is also expected to include a stop in Israel, although the plans have not been finalized.

Smoothing relations in the Middle East is seen as priority by his aides, who know that increasing gas prices are damaging Biden’s standing and will hand Republicans victory in November’s midterms. 

This week, Vice President Kamala Harris led a delegation to the United Arab Emirates for the funeral of its president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Observers said the high-profile of the delegation was an effort to repair relations with another source of energy that has so far balked at helping the U.S. cope with shortages.