Biden will visit Israel, West Bank and Saudi Arabia in bid to ‘revitalise’ US strength in region

Mr Biden is expected to meet Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to Jeddah despite a 2020 pledge to render the Saudi Crown Prince a ‘pariah’ for ordering the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Kashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi: Saudi prince MBS authorised move to 'capture or kill' journalist, claims US report

President Joe Biden will visit Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia during a three-day swing through the Middle East next month, his first trip to the region since assuming the presidency.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters on Mr Biden’s plans said the trip will run from 13 to 16 June, and is aimed at “reinforc[ing] the United States’ iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity” and allowing the president to attend this year’s Gulf Cooperation Council summit, which will also be attended by leaders from Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

The official said Mr Biden’s trip is a continuation of a series of international engagements that started with last month’s visit to South Korea and Japan, the “quad” summit Mr Biden attended, last week’s Summit of the Americas, and his upcoming trip to the G7 and Nato summits. They added that Biden aides believe the trip demonstrates “the return of American leadership to bring countries together to address common threats and challenges”

“This comparative advantage of ours bringing countries together building and strengthening coalitions and alliances atrophied under the last administration. We've worked to restore it,” the official said. “And as I think we've seen since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the United States and President Biden personally has begun to revitalize our unique strength and building alliances and coalitions through diplomacy and highest level engagement in the Middle East region”.

Mr Biden will open his trip by making his first trip to Israel as president, nearly a half-century after he first visited as a newly-elected senator in the 1970s.

The official said the president is “likely” to visit a site where the US-funded Iron Dome missile defence system is in use and engage in discussions with Israeli officials regarding new laser technologies that can defeat “missiles and other airborne threats”.

“In meetings with Israeli leaders, the President will reaffirm the ironclad US commitment to Israel security, and new areas, deepening cooperation and technology, climate, commerce, trade and other sectors,” they said.

In addition to defence, Mr Biden is also set to discuss Israel’s burgeoning regional integration, a product of the Abraham Accords normalisation agreements brokered with UAE, Morocco and Bahrain in the waning days of the Trump administration, as well as improved ties with Jordan, Egypt, and India.

Mr Biden will also discuss Israeli relations with India and the UAE at the head-of-government level as part of a new diplomatic grouping the US is calling I2U2.

“We consider these initiatives central to our strategy of empowering partners and encouraging them to work more closely together, which will lead to a more stable region and also to Israel's security prosperity over the longer term,” the official said.

The president will next travel to the West Bank for a bilateral meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders.

The official noted that Mr Biden and Mr Abbas have known each other for decades, and said Mr Biden “looks forward to reaffirming his lifelong commitment to a two state solution and to discuss the ways in which we might rekindle a new political horizon that can ensure equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and dignity to Israelis and Palestinians alike”.

Following his engagements in the West Bank, Mr Biden will fly to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for a summit of Gulf Cooperation Council countries, plus Iraq, Jordan and Egypt.

He is also set to conduct a series of bilateral meetings with GCC leaders, including “Saudi hosts and other counterparts”.

The discussions Mr Biden will engage in are set to focus on “range of bilateral regional and global issues,” including US support for the UN-mediated truce underway in Yemen.

“The President also looks forward to outlining and affirmative agenda for America's engagement in this vital region, making clear that the United States is fully committed to supporting the territorial defence of our partners against threats from Iran or elsewhere, and doing so in new integrated and innovative ways while also combining the strong deterrent capabilities with proactive diplomacy to deescalate tensions and wars wherever possible,” the official said.

The visit to Saudi Arabia will also be Mr Biden’s first as president, and comes after a period of heightened tension between Washington and Riyadh brought on by Saudi Arabia’s murder of Washington Post columnist and US resident Jamal Kashoggi.

According to the US intelligence community, Kashoggi, a vocal critic of the Saudi government, was strangled and dismembered by Saudi security operatives in Istanbul after visiting a Saudi consulate to obtain documents he needed to get married.

US intelligence officials also concluded that Mr Kashoggi’s murder was ordered by Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince who is the kingdom’s de facto leader.

The White House official said the Biden administration has “made clear” that those events required a “recalibration” in relations with Riyadh but not a “rupture”.

“We have important interests interwoven with Saudi Arabia and engagement is essential to protecting [and] advancing those interests on behalf of the American people. Saudi Arabia has been a strategic partner the United States for nearly 30 years and the President considers Riyadh an important partner on a host of regional and global priorities that we are working on,” the official said, adding that Mr Biden has had “two constructive conversations” with King Salman since taking office.

Continuing, the official said the Biden administration’s national security team have remained “engaged” with Saudi officials “regularly” regarding “a host of issues from climate to energy security, to new openings for regional cooperation to human rights to ending war in Yemen, containing Iran supporting our maritime defence among many other topics”.

“The President believes strongly that at this particular moment in the world, with interests at stake for the United States and the American people, visiting Saudi Arabia for a summit of leaders from across the Middle East region … is a smart thing to do at the right time and offers opportunity for significant gains both for the United States for Saudi Arabia, for the Middle East region, and for advancing our strategy towards a more stable, more peaceful and more integrated region which ultimately benefits the American people in the world,” the official said.

While Mr Biden has heretofore declined to engage with the Saudi crown prince, who is frequently referred to by his initials as MBS, and vowed to make him a “pariah” during his 2020 presidential campaign, the official said the president can be expected to “see” him but declined to give a detailed description of who would be present at each of Mr Biden’s meetings.

But in a news release, the Saudi embassy in Washington said Mr Biden had agreed to a meeting with MBS following his meeting with King Salman on his first day in Jeddah.

The official said the US is “not overlooking” Kashoggi’s murder despite Mr Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia, citing the sanctions imposed on more than 70 Saudi individuals and entities, including the Saudi royal guards’ rapid intervention force last year.

“While we recalibrate relations, we're not seeking to rupture relations … Saudi Arabia has been a strategic partner of the United States for eight decades and we share a host of interests with Saudi Arabia from containing Iran to counterterrorism to helping protect its territory where importantly 70,000 Americans live in work,” they said.

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