President Biden arrived in Saudi Arabia Friday morning on the first direct flight from Israel ahead of meetings with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Said and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and an energy summit in the kingdom, where administration officials say he will publicly speak on the issues of human rights and energy security.
The president arrived in Jeddah Friday before noon Eastern time at King Abdulaziz International Airport, after what the White House described as a “historic flight” from Israel to Saudi Arabia.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that the flight “follows the monumental decision to open Saudi airspace to all civilian carriers without discrimination, a decision that includes flights to and from Israel.”
The president, upon arrival, shook hands with almost every person he greeted on the tarmac. The Saudis laid a light purple carpet, lined with an honor guard holding up swords.
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The president then left the airport for a meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Said at the Al Salam Royal Palace. Later, the president and his team met for a working session with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Ministers. Upon arrival, the president and the crown prince shared a fist-bump. Earlier on his trip, the White House had said due to COVID-19 precautions he would stay away from handshaking, something he seemed to forget.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, during a gaggle Friday, said the president will spend time speaking publicly on the issue of human rights—this, after Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor for the Washington Post, was killed in 2018 by Saudi security officials.
The White House has defended the Biden administration’s “strategic” partnership with Saudi Arabia, saying President Biden wants to “get peace” with the country.
However, Biden, during a Democratic presidential primary debate in 2019, promised to make the kingdom a global “pariah” due to its mistreatment of human beings, violations of international law and open hostility to the U.S. — including the killing of Khashoggi.
“My heart as all of your heart goes out to the family of Jamal Khashoggi, he was murdered in a brutal and grisly way when this administration came in,” Sullivan said Friday. “We move to take action. We’ve talked through this set of actions that we took over the course of the past few days. And the president remains firmly committed to advancing the cause of human rights in general.”
Sullivan said the president will “have a conversation on fundamental issues of human rights in Saudi Arabia.”
As for the Biden administration’s view of the Middle East, Sullivan said the president believes it “remains a strategically vital region.”
The president has said he “is not going to leave an American vacuum here to China and Russia.”
Sullivan stressed that Biden has directed a policy of “recalibrating, not rupturing, the relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
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For weeks, the White House has stressed that oil production is “not the focus” of conversations Biden will have with officials in Saudi Arabia.
However, Sullivan said Friday that a “particular announcement” should not be expected from the trip.
“I don’t think you should expect a particular announcement here bilaterally because we believe any further action taken to ensure that there is sufficient energy to protect the health of the global economy. will be done in the context of OPEC,” Sullivan said.
Instead, Sullivan said Biden will discuss “energy security.”
“The president discusses it when he’s in Europe, when he’s in Asia. And he certainly we’ll be discussing here in the Middle East and here in Saudi Arabia,” Sullivan said.
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The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel and its extended group of allied producers known as OPEC+ agreed last month to ramp up oil production this summer after months of resistance amid soaring global energy prices.
Sullivan referenced that announcement, saying it would be discussed during meetings in Saudi Arabia.
“We are hopeful that we will see additional actions by OPEC+ in the coming weeks.”