Biden insists he hasn’t set a Saudi Arabia trip

Biden insists he hasn't set a Saudi Arabia trip

President Biden on Friday denied the accuracy of reports in the New York Times and Washington Post that said he has decided to visit Saudi Arabia this month.

Biden said he remains undecided while taking questions from reporters near his beach home in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

“I’m not sure whether I’m going. I have no direct plans at the moment,” Biden said. “But let me tell you that I have been engaged in trying to work with how we can bring more stability and peace in the Middle East.”

Biden added, “There is a possibility that I would be going to meet with both Israelis and some Arab countries at the time, including I expect would be Saudi Arabia would be included in that if I did go. But I have no direct plans at the moment.”

The president’s remarks were a rare direct denial of reporting by the Times and the Washington Post, which said hours earlier that the trip was booked.

President Joe Biden
President Biden said he remains undecided on whether will visit the country while taking questions from reporters near his beach home.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The Times, citing multiple administration officials, said Biden “decided to travel to Riyadh this month to rebuild relations with the oil-rich kingdom.” The Washington Post, citing three US officials, said Biden “is planning to visit Saudi Arabia later this month.”

A senior White House official told reporters in a Thursday night email that “we currently have no travel to announce,” but the initial reports seemed to be a quasi-official leak after the oil cartel OPEC agreed Thursday to boost oil production, which could help ease US inflation.

Biden initially gave Saudi Arabia the cold shoulder and sought to sideline Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who allegedly ordered the 2018 operation that resulted in the death and alleged dismemberment of US resident Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman developed a relationship with Jared Kushner when Donald Trump was president.
Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP, File

Asked Friday by a reporter if Saudi Arabia remains a “pariah,” Biden said, “Look, I’m not going to change my view on human rights. But as president of the United States, my job is to bring peace if I can — peace if I can. And that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

When a different reporter asked Biden if he would be willing to meet with the crown prince, Biden said, “Look, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. What I want to do is see to it that we diminish the likelihood that there’s a continuation of this — some of the senseless wars between Israel and the Arab nations. And that’s what I’m focusing on.”

Israel has not fought a major war against a neighboring Arab nation since it took sides in Lebanon’s civil war and invaded the country in the early 1980s. But it has fought off numerous Palestinian uprisings and battled Islamist Palestinian and Lebanese groups based in Gaza and southern Lebanon. Saudi arch rival Iran usually is blamed for backing those anti-Israel movements.

Biden’s gradual decision to patch up relations with the Saudis comes four years after then-President Donald Trump condemned Khashoggi’s murder while sticking by the kingdom’s government, saying that US-Saudi business and security links were too important.

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner built a relationship with the crown prince and in 2020 brokered the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and five Muslim-majority countries — BahrainKosovoMoroccoSudan and the United Arab Emirates. After leaving office, Kushner last year reached a deal to manage $2 billion for the Saudi government, some of which reportedly will be invested in Israel.

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