Biden to travel to Saudi Arabia this month, reports say

President expected to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

US President Joe Biden at the White House this week. EPA
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US President Joe Biden will reportedly travel to Saudi Arabia this month as Washington seeks to bolster ties with Riyadh and lower petrol prices at home.

Mr Biden will meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during part of a previously scheduled trip to Israel and Europe, The New York Times reported on Thursday, citing officials speaking on condition of anonymity. Other outlets including The Associated Press and CNN also cited anonymous sources confirming the trip.

Though logistics of the president's trip — the first to an Arab state since he came to office last year — have yet to be finalised, he is also expected to meet senior officials from other countries in the Middle East.

A senior White House official did not confirm the visit but said any travel would focus on advancing US interests, noting that some “are interwoven with Saudi Arabia”.

The official described Riyadh as a “strategic partner of the United States for nearly 80 years”.

Mr Biden “views the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as an important partner on a host of initiatives that we are working on both in the region and around the world”, the official told The National.

Plans for presidential travel to Saudi Arabia have been in the works for months and the subject of intense negotiations between the two capitals. Last week, senior White House official Brett McGurk visited Riyadh, following a trip by Saudi deputy defence minister Khalid bin Salman to Washington in mid-May.

The trip comes as the Biden administration continues to ramp up co-operation with Riyadh, including seeking an end to the war in Yemen.

A UN-brokered truce between Yemen's warring parties was extended on Thursday and Mr Biden praised Saudi Arabia for its role.

“Saudi Arabia demonstrated courageous leadership by taking initiatives early on to endorse and implement terms of the UN-led truce,” Mr Biden said in a statement.

“The last two months in Yemen, thanks to the truce brokered in April, have been among the most peaceful periods since this terrible war began seven years ago.”

The US official reiterated Mr Biden’s commitment to support “Saudi Arabia in the defence of its territory from Iran and other threats”.

Karen Young, senior fellow and founding director of the Programme on Economics and Energy at the Middle East Institute, said Mr Biden’s visit is a “success story” for Saudi Arabia.

“It’s a real vindication for Saudi Arabia, for [Prince Mohammed],” Ms Young told The National.

For the past year and a half, US-Saudi tension increased over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Riyadh's refusal to increase oil supplies.

During his campaign, Mr Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia “a pariah”, but the rise in petrol prices due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine has forced a recalibration of the relationship.

Ms Young, who recently returned from a trip to Riyadh, said there is a sense of confidence that the kingdom's energy policies and economic transformation have paid off.

“They feel like they were correct, that they have made good choices on economic policy and on energy policy, and that the US is now recognising their value,” she said.

Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst with the Rane intelligence network, said the visit would mark a “substantial improvement in the personal ties between Saudi Arabia and the United States”.

But he warned of a changed dynamic and geopolitical divergences that will likely remain after the visit, such as Saudi relations with Russia and China.

“There is still a lot of life left in strategic co-operation in the relationship, but there's narrowing room of them returning to the close-knit alignment that we saw in the 1990s and 2000s,” Mr Bohl told The National.

Updated: June 02, 2022, 10:10 PM