Daily Courier – The White House has confirmed details of US President Joe Biden’s first trip to the Middle East, including a controversial stop in Saudi Arabia and an expected meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced that the trip, which had previously been reported by US media, would take place between July 13 and 16. Biden will also visit Israel and the occupied West Bank.

The stop in Saudi Arabia – and particularly the meeting with MBS – represent an about-face for Biden, who as a candidate said the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence later directly linked to the crown prince, made the kingdom a “pariah”.

Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered by a group of Saudi agents inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. Saudi officials initially claimed Khashoggi had left the building, but amid public pressure, later acknowledged that he was killed there.

In 2019, a UN investigation concluded that Khashoggi’s murder was a “premeditated extrajudicial execution”.

But Riyadh has insisted that the killing was carried out by rogue agents without the approval of top officials, including the crown prince. MBS has vehemently denied ordering or having prior knowledge of the murder. The kingdom also arrested and tried several citizens over the incident.

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During his July visit, Biden is widely expected to try to secure a boost in Saudi oil production, as his administration scrambles to tame spiralling fuel costs – spurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine – and inflation at home that are projected to hurt his Democratic Party in the upcoming midterm congressional elections.

In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that while in Jeddah, Biden will attend a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plus Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan.

With Saudi leadership, the US president will “discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues”, Jean-Pierre said, including to a continuing UN-mediated truce in fighting in Yemen, where Riyadh has led a coalition fighting Houthi rebels since 2015.

Biden “will also discuss means for expanding regional economic and security cooperation, including new and promising infrastructure and climate initiatives, as well as deterring threats from Iran, advancing human rights, and ensuring global energy and food security,” she said.

Source: Aljazeera English