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Will Biden’s high-stakes visit to Saudi Arabia secure lower gas prices and deter Iran?

President Biden will depart Friday on the first direct flight from the Jewish state to Saudi Arabia to attend an energy summit in the kingdom, the globe’s largest exporter of oil, for a meeting that will also be attended by Gulf states.

Biden noted that one reason for his trip was to reestablish U.S. influence in the region.

“There are so many issues at stake that I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum, a vacuum that is filled by China and or Russia against the interests of both Israel and the United States and many other countries,” Biden said. 

Biden’s goal in Jeddah, according to Middle East experts interviewed by Fox News Digital, is to reduce prices at the gas pumps for U.S. consumers. In exchange for a drop in fuel costs, the Gulf nations want the world’s most powerful military to deter the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons and halt their terrorist activities in the region.

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After then-candidate Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” nation during the 2020 election campaign, he will face an uphill battle to repair the tattered relations between the kingdom and the U.S.

“It is unclear if Saudi Arabia will pump more oil, because those decisions are mostly driven by their energy policy leaders’ assessments of global market dynamics and what’s good for their country’s economic and strategic interests,” Brian Katulis, a senior fellow and vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told Fox News Digital. 

“The Biden team would like to see prices go down, and it has been asking for Saudi Arabia to add more supply, but the decision mostly depends on their own decisions based on the assessment of the global market and less on requests from the United States or any other individual country.”

In this Feb. 26, 1997, file photo, Khaled al-Otaiby, an official of the Saudi oil company Aramco watches progress at a rig at the al-Howta oil field near Howta, Saudi Arabia. 

Earlier this year, the Saudis famously refused a request from Biden to speak on the phone amid rising oil prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Daniel Pipes, president of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, was more optimistic about Biden’s chances of success.

“If cajoled enough, given enough in return, likely yes,” Pipes told Fox News Digital when asked whether Riyadh will pump more oil to help drive down gas prices.

The Saudis want “protection against Iran, respect for the changes underway [the reforms in the Kingdom], a favorable market for its oil sales,” Pipes added.

In return, the U.S. wants “oil and friendly relations,” the distinguished historian of the Middle East added.

Pipes noted the importance of the ties between both countries. 

“A relationship going back to 1945 is now in question. Is the U.S. government going indefinitely to make a single atrocity the centerpiece of its policy? Will the Saudi monarchy turn toward China? In all likelihood, things will go back to something like their old normal, but this must be positively affirmed, as it will not happen by itself,” Pipes said. 

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The atrocity he referenced was the October 2018 Saudi assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist and U.S. resident, inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. 

Former President Hassan Rouhani, second right, listens to head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi while visiting an exhibition of Iran's new nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, in April 2021.

The Iranian regime, and its drive to build nuclear weapons, according to Western governments and Israel, is the elephant in the room of security threats for the Saudis.

“Iran is the essential background to Saudi relations with the outside world, including Washington,” Pipes said. “Tehran not only threatens Riyadh on a security level, but it challenges the Saudi claim to leadership of the Umma [Islamic community].”

Katulis added, “Iran is the top security concern of Saudi Arabia, and Saudi leaders would like to hear what Biden’s Plan B is, because Biden’s Plan A on Iran has not met the stated goals. But this may take some time to develop, as the Biden team is reluctant to let go of its initial plans on Iran.”

Biden’s Plan A is to bring Tehran back into compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the Iran nuclear deal that provides sanctions relief to the theocratic state in exchange for temporary restrictions on its atomic program.

The nuclear talks between Iran’s regime and world powers continue, but, so far, without much success. The Israelis, Saudi Arabia and additional U.S. allies in the Middle East view the Biden approach as deeply flawed because it injected over $100 billion in sanctions relief into Iran’s regime and its war chest. The funds will be used for Tehran’s nuclear program, its sponsorship of terrorism and its ballistic missile programs, Iran experts have long argued. 

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Katulis added, “Saudi leaders would also like to see stronger U.S. commitments to regional security and a clearer plan for a long-term U.S. strategy for the region.” 

As for Saudi Arabia’s efforts under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, known by his initials MBS, to reform the ultra-orthodox religious state, observers note significant progress.

“The process of modernization continues step by step. It’s far from complete, but every passing year finds Saudi Arabia less of an eccentricity, more a normal country,” said Pipes.

Observers say MBS has had successes inside the kingdom through his social and economic reforms, like allowing women to drive. But they say much more still needs to change, especially concerning human rights and religious freedom. 

“Inside the kingdom, the social and economic reforms that are strongly popular with the next generation of Saudis continue to move forward in important ways, and the old ways of thinking grounded in a conservative interpretation of Islam are being pushed further to the sidelines,” said Katulis. 

“Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia remains an absolute monarchy intolerant of a diversity of views, and it still takes troubling measures to stifle dissent. It has a lot of work to do in respecting basic human rights and freedoms including religious freedom.”

On Thursday, Biden was once again asked about Khashoggi and whether he will broach the topic with the Saudis. 

“My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear, and I have never been quiet about talking about human rights,” Biden said.

Observers say one sign of whether Friday and Saturday’s meetings with the Saudis are successful will be to watch prices at the gas pumps on Main Street next week. 

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