After the White House announced U.S. President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to the Middle East, including a visit to Israel, pundits speculated whether his tour would include a potential meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Last week, CNN suggested that such a meeting is currently the works.
The network quoted “former and current U.S. officials” sources who said that the president could have his first face-to-face meeting with MBS in June during his overseas trip. The meeting, should it transpire, would follow “months of diplomatic heavy lifting” by administration officials in coordination with the Saudis.
The report noted that the meeting would coincide with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh.
“You should count on something like this happening, it just comes down to when, not if,” a former U.S. official told CNN.
Earlier this month, an advance team from the Biden administration arrived in Israel to prepare the groundwork for his first official visit to the region as president. The team examined an idea of adding a “regional element” to the president’s tour, such as a summit between Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and several other leaders from the region. Reports at the time, however, did not include a stop in Saudi Arabia.
The Biden administration recently changed its attitude towards Saudi Arabia, in light of the global oil crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden – who once referred to the Kingdom as a “pariah” on the Democratic primary debate stage and constantly criticized the dismal Saudi record on human rights – has been making diplomatic overtures to amend ties in recent months.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, and the White House wishes to see an enhanced production that will decrease prices and ease global supply. In the United States, the national average for a gallon of gas hit a new record on Thursday of $4.589 per gallon, up from $3.043 at this time last year. In California, the statewide average is now above $6.
In early March, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Saudis refused to take a call from the White House to discuss rapprochement and boosting of oil exports. They were reportedly disappointed from the White House’s laconic rhetoric and inaction, after a series of attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi territory.
This week, the Saudi Arabian Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid Bin Salman was in Washington D.C. where he met with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin around the same time as similar meetings occurred between the U.S. officials and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The top officials discussed a potential revival of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which raised speculation that Israel is coordinating a strategy with both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia on the matter.