JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Was it worth it?
That’s the question President Joe Biden is trying to answer in the affirmative as he wraps up a four-day trip to the Middle East Saturday with meetings in Saudi Arabia – the country has previously vowed to shun because of its human rights abuses.
Biden is expected to touch on economics, security and human rights issues.
American voters, on the other hand, are likely more interested in whether he can convince the oil-rich kingdom to help bring down the price of gayes
- Newapproach: Biden was forced to change his approach to Saudi Arabia due to the geopolitical realties of the short-term rise in gas prices, the long-term energy security challenges, the need to stop Iran’s aggressions in the region and the fear of leaving a vacuum in the Middle East that China or Russia could fill.
- Opening airways: In what the White House views as a vindication of his engagement with Saudi Arabia, the kingdom announced it will open its airspace to “all air carriers,” signaling the end of their longstanding ban on Israeli flights overflying their territory – a key step toward normalization between the two nations.
- Message of peace: Biden flew from Israel to Saudi Arabia, where he brought with him a “message of peace” from Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid to all the Arab nations in the region.
- Khashoggi killing: Biden said he brought up the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist who wrote for The Washington Post, in his meeting Friday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. US intelligence believes the crown prince likely approved the killing of Khashoggi four years ago. Biden said the prince claimed he was not personally responsible. “I indicated I thought he was,” Biden said.
- Inching toward normalization: Biden announced that peacekeepers will depart the Red Sea island of Tiran by the end of the year in the latest sign that Saudi Arabia and Israel are inching toward normalization. The island, controlled by Egypt before being ceded to Saudi Arabia in 2017, has hosted American troops as part of the Multinational Force and Observers since 1981 after Israel and Egypt reached a peace accord.
What’s about to happen
Biden is attending a summit of Middle Eastern leaders, those representing the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, a group known as the GCC+3.
Biden plans to discuss America’s historic role in the region and his approach going forward.
He will also meet one-on-one with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Biden raised eyebrows when he exchanged a fist bump with Crown Prince Mohammed upon arriving at Al Salam Royal Palace in Jeddah for delicate talks on energy, human rights and security in the Middle East.
Later, in a meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud and other Saudi leaders, reporters asked bin Salman whether he apologizes to the Khashoggi family and asked Biden if Saudi Arabia still considers a “pariah.” The president did not reply. The crown prince appeared to smirk. Reporters were then escorted out.
Biden said the purpose of his trip was not to meet with the crown prince but to position the United States in the region for the future. “We’re not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China to fill,” he said.
What they are saying
- “The fist bump between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman was worse than a handshake — it was shameful,” Fred Ryan, publisher of The Washington Post, said in a statement. “It projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.”
- “If we ever needed a visual reminder of the continuing grip oil-rich autocrats have on US foreign policy in the Middle East, we got it today,” tweeted Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “One fist bump is worth a thousand words.”
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Contributing: The Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism