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Biden to travel to Middle East in July, White House says

“From the earliest days of our administration, we made it clear that U.S. policy demanded recalibration in relations with this important country, but not a rupture,” the official said. “And that is because we have important interests interwoven with Saudi Arabia.”

The administration is already defending against the emerging narrative that Biden’s trip could be seen as letting Saudi Arabia off the hook. In a Democratic presidential debate in 2019, Biden said he would make the Saudis “pay the price” for Khashoggi’s murder and “make them in fact the pariah that they are.”

The official pointed to the administration’s release of the intelligence report that concluded that bin Salman approved the operation that led to the killing of Khashoggi in 2018, and to the State Department’s subsequent unveiling of a new policy called the Khashoggi Ban, which allows the U.S. to restrict visas against those who oppress journalists and dissidents. The U.S. has used the ban multiple times to impose sanctions on more than 70 Saudi individuals and entities, the official said, noting that these retributions were imposed all while rebuilding relations with the country.

“Human rights is always a part of the conversation,” the senior administration official said. “The president is not going to change his views on human rights. He’s made that clear. And he’s also made clear that as president of the United States, it’s his job to ‘bring peace if I can’ … and he focuses our entire national security team on getting things done for the American people.”

In Saudi Arabia, Biden will participate in a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council with leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt. The White House will release more details on Biden’s additional meetings, the official said, though it is expected the president will hold a bilateral meeting with bin Salman.

Biden also plans to discuss the United Nations-led truce in Yemen; means for expanding “regional economic and security cooperation,” such as through infrastructure and climate initiatives; ongoing security threats from Iran; and ensuring global food and energy security as Russia’s war in Ukraine destabilizes global oil markets.

Before flying to the kingdom, Biden will meet with Israeli leaders in Israel to discuss security and the nation’s integration in the region. He’ll then travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian leaders to “consult with the Palestinian Authority and to reiterate his strong support for a two-state solution, with equal measures of security, freedom, and opportunity for the Palestinian people,” the administration official said.

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