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Biden decides on visit to Saudi Arabia as OPEC+ increases oil production

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In this photo released by the Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. U.S. strategic interests in oil and security are pushing President Joe Biden toward a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a trip abroad later this month. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP, File)

PA

President Joe Biden has decided to visit Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks and is expected to meet the kingdom’s crown prince, whom he once shunned for his brutality. It’s a visit brewing as OPEC+ announced on Thursday that it would pump more oil amid soaring energy costs around the world.

Biden’s first trip to the Saudi kingdom as president is expected to take place later this month, but details have not been finalized, a person familiar with the planning told The Associated Press.

The White House praised Saudi Arabia on Thursday for its role in securing an OPEC+ pledge to pump more oil and the president himself praised the Saudis for agreeing to an extension of the ceasefire. -fire in its eight-year war with Yemen which was also announced on Thursday.

“Saudi Arabia has shown courageous leadership by taking early steps to endorse and implement the terms of the UN-led truce,” Biden said in a statement after the extension was announced. 60 day ceasefire.

Those warm words stand in stark contrast to some of Biden’s earlier rhetoric about the oil-rich kingdom. As a candidate, he pledged to treat Saudis as an “outcast” for the 2018 murder and dismemberment of US journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s brutal ways. US intelligence officials have determined that the Saudi crown prince likely approved of the journalist’s murder.

Biden administration officials have worked behind the scenes to mend relations, discussing shared strategic interests in security and oil with their Saudi counterparts. The effort came to fruition as the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world’s second largest crude exporter after Saudi Arabia, and a Saudi-Russian-negotiated cap on production oil have pushed up crude prices and sent the prices Americans pay at the pump to record highs.

Biden and Democrats face growing voter anger over high prices, making tight oil supplies a major political liability.

Calls by the United States and its allies for the OPEC+ group – the OPEC countries plus Russia – to further increase production appeared to bear fruit on Thursday. OPEC nations announced they would increase production by 648,000 barrels a day in July and August, offering modest relief to a struggling global economy.

The increase did not seem to allay concerns about limited supply. Oil prices rose after OPEC+ announced the increase.

In a statement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged what she called Saudi Arabia’s role “in seeking consensus” within the producer bloc. oil. She also thanked the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq.

Jean-Pierre also directly quoted “the leadership of King Salman and the crown prince” in Thursday’s announcement of an extended UN ceasefire in Yemen, where Saudi-led forces have led an unsuccessful war to rout the Houthi rebels in that country.

The White House is considering a Biden visit that would also include a meeting of leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – as well as Egypt, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. Jordan, according to the person familiar with the White House planning, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the trip yet to be finalized.

Biden is expected to meet Prince Mohammed during the visit, according to the person.

Such a meeting could ease a tense and uncertain period in the partnership between Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, and the United States, the world’s leading economic and military power, which has lasted for more than three quarters of a century.

But it also risks publicly humiliating the US leader, who in 2019 pledged to make a “pariah” of the Saudi royal family over Khashoggi’s murder.

Biden is expected to travel to Europe in late June and may stop in Saudi Arabia to meet Prince Mohammed, Saudi King Salman and other leaders. If he does, Biden will likely also visit Israel.

Israeli officials, in their engagement with the Biden administration, have insisted on their view that US relations with Arab capitals, including Riyadh, are critical to Israel’s security and overall stability. of the region. The visit could also be an opportunity to kick off talks on what the administration sees as a longer-term plan to normalize Saudi-Israeli relations.

And while the Biden administration continues to be concerned about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, the president’s advisers credit the Saudis with greater restraint in their conflict with Yemen since Biden took office. .

White House officials expect criticism from Democratic allies and human rights advocates accusing Biden of backsliding on human rights, but suggest that in the long run a credible strategy in the Middle East without the main leaders of the kingdom is not tenable.

Biden, early in his presidency, repeatedly said the world stands at a key moment in history when democracies must demonstrate they can outperform autocracies. The administration does not want to see countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia with troubling human rights records fall into the camp of Moscow and Beijing.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told an audience in Washington on Wednesday that Biden’s intention to take office was to “recalibrate the relationship with Saudi Arabia and ensure that this relationship serves our own interests as well as as our values ​​as we move forward – but also by preserving this.”

“And that’s a lot of what we did,” Blinken said.

U.S. officials recently traveled to the region for talks with Saudi officials on energy supplies, the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal and the war in Yemen.

Frequent and warm visits by Saudi, Russian and Chinese officials during the freeze between Biden and the Saudi crown prince have heightened Western fears that Saudi Arabia is breaking with Western strategic interests.

In addition to helping keep gas prices high for consumers around the world, the limited oil supply is helping Russia finance its invasion of Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited the Saudi kingdom on Tuesday.

Officials in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for their part, see Biden as the latest of several US presidents to neglect the US military’s longtime patronage role in the Gulf, as the US tries to focus on China.

These Gulf security concerns may be alleviated by the US decision last year to place control of its forces in Israel under US central command. This effectively increases interaction between the US-equipped Israeli military and Arab forces under US military auspices, said Dan Shapiro, former US ambassador to Israel, now a distinguished member of the Council of the United States. Atlantic.