Biden WILL meet with MBS on his trip to Saudi Arabia, Jake Sullivan says – while refusing to clarify whether the two men will shake hands and whether president will bring up the murder of Jamal Khashoggi
President Joe Biden will meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, when he visits Saudi Arabia this week as part of his larger trip to the Middle East, the White House confirmed on Monday.
But the administration won’t say whether or not the president will shake hands with MBS, as the prince is known, a photo that, if taken, would be shown around the world, likely infuriating some Democrats who are concerned about MBS’ human rights record.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that President Biden will have a meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his government, which would include MBS, who is Salman’s heir to the throne and serves as defense minister.
‘The president will have the opportunity to have a bilateral program that will involve the King, the Crown Prince, other ministers of the Saudi government,’ he said on Monday.
He declined to answer whether or not Biden and MBS will shake hands.
‘In terms of the precise modalities, I’ll leave that to the folks who are actually organizing this trip,’ Sullivan said.
President Joe Biden will meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, when he visits Saudi Arabia this week
Relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have deteriorated during Biden’s presidency.
He slammed the kingdom as a ‘pariah state’ after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that MBS approved the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.
But Biden’s visit to the kingdom is seen as a chance to reset relations at a time gas prices remain high in the United States.
‘It’s really important to Saudi Arabia and the GCC that Biden is coming,’ Ben Cahill, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told DailyMail.com.
‘I think it underscores to them that they play a critical role in the global economy, that they have security issues that they want Washington to address, and that the Biden administration’s engaging with them. So it is really significant for them that he’s coming. Managing the optics of that as obviously complicated,’ he notd.
Those complicated optics include the question of that handshake.
These official visits are usually highly choreographed affairs set after weeks of planning, which includes where officials will be positioned and how the president can walk into a room to set up or avoid a handshake.
But things can get unpredictable and how the meeting plays out will be closely watched.
Human rights advocates also have encouraged Biden not to make the trip without bringing up Khashoggi’s killing.
The White House has said Biden will discuss human rights on the trip but has not specificially said if Biden will discuss the murdered Washington Post journalist.
‘We have had contact with Jamal Khashoggi, his family. The president has not himself spoken with them. But he has been focused on this issue from the beginning. And as he said when he took office, and as we have stuck by since then, our goal has been to recalibrate but not rupture the relationship with Saudi Arabia to end the blank check policy and to seek accountability,’ Sullivan said.
Biden also has defended his record on human rights.
‘I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia. My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad, as they will be during this trip, just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank,’ Biden wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post.
Biden has been reluctant to deal with the crown prince and, early on his presidency, said he would only deal with the aging King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who he sees as his equal.
And the White House has taken repeated pains to say Biden will be meeting with the king and his leadership team while the president is in Saudi Arabia and that team happens to include MBS.
But a handshake between the two men may be inevitable – and necessary, particularly if Biden wants the Saudis to start pumping more oil in an effort to bring down prices at the gas pump back home.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that President Biden will have a meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his government, which would include MBS, who is Salman’s heir to the throne and serves as defense minister
Human rights advocates also have encouraged President Biden not to make the trip without bringing up the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Biden will also make a stop in Jerusalem where he will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders – above a worker irons an American flag as part of the preparations for that visit
Experts point out that – from the Saudi point of view – that the high gas prices in the U.S. are a problem of the Biden administration’s own making, a result of sanctions Washington and Western allies have placed on Russia in response to its invasion of the Ukraine.
Martin Indyk of the Council on Foreign Relations noted that despite Biden’s reluctance to engage with the crown prince, the sense come from the Saudi government is that ‘now the president’s going to have to eat crow and kiss the ring.’
‘Both sides should understand that they need to find a way to work with each other and set the direction in the future for a better relationship,’ he said.
‘There is a pragmatic deal that does need to be done on this trip, which is, basically, MBS, the crown prince, agrees to pump more oil and President Biden agrees to take him out of the penalty box,’ Indyk noted.
While in Saudi Arabie, Biden will attend The Gulf Cooperation Council summit – consisting of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.
He will start the trip with a stop in Jerusalem, where he will meet with Israeli and Palenstinian leaders.
He will stress regional cooperation and its mutual benefits in all his stops.
The administration would like to see closer Arab security ties with Israel to counter Iran.
Biden will also offer his vision for the region.
‘At that summit, he will make a major statement on the Biden administration strategy, his vision for the Middle East region,’ Sullivan said.
The war in Yemen, which Washington wants to see Riyadh make progress toward ending, will also be a topic of conversation during the Saudi portion of the trip.
The choreography of the trip, especially the meeting with King Salman, will be closely watched.
And no matter the optics, it remains unclear if gas prices will drop in the United States after the trip.
Last month Saudi Arabia and The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to increase its output by more than 200,000 barrels a day – a move the Biden administration praised.
Mark Finley, an energy expert with Rice’s Baker Institute, said Riyadh may be reluctant to pump out more than that.
He said they are capable but added that they want to keep it for emergencies.
‘it’s not meant for – hey, prices are a little bit high and we need to do something about it or we want to make more money. We’re saving it for an emergency. Just like the United States has a strategic stockpile,’ he noted.
Additionally, U.S. refineries are operating at 95% of capacity, the highest in almost three years, leaving little room to process more crude.
Oil producing nations like Saudi Arabia were raking in a billion dollars a day in oil export receipts in March and April of this year.
And gas prices in the United States have started to drop.
The U.S. average price for a regular-grade gallon was $4.67 on Monday, down 12 cents over the last week and 34 cents from a month ago, according to AAA.
But it’s still over a dollar higher than the average a year ago.