Biden: goal of Saudi trip is to ‘strengthen’ relations and promote regional integration

'When I meet with Saudi leaders on Friday, my aim will be to strengthen a strategic partnership ... that’s based on mutual interests and responsibilities,' he wrote

President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on July 8. AP
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US President Joe Biden defended his decision to visit Saudi Arabia this week, arguing that the trip to Jeddah will “advance important American interests” and preserve nearly a century-old strategic relationship.

Writing in The Washington Post on Saturday, Mr Biden offered a geopolitical, economic and security rationale behind his trip.

“We have to counter Russia’s aggression [in Ukraine], put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world,” Mr Biden said.

This requires engaging with countries that can shape that outcome, he explained.

Saudi Arabia is one of them, and when I meet with Saudi leaders on Friday, my aim will be to strengthen a strategic partnership going forward that’s based on mutual interests and responsibilities, while also holding true to fundamental American values,” Mr Biden wrote.

His trip to the kingdom will be the first to an Arab country since he became president last year. Mr Biden is set to arrive in Jeddah on Friday on a two-day visit.

He is expected to meet Saudi leader King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a senior US official said, and attend a summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council plus Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan, known as the GCC+3.

For the past year and a half, however, US-Saudi tension has increased over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Riyadh maintaining its position on oil production. But Mr Biden said the relationship is on a better footing now, and touted his larger regional approach in promoting it.

“From the start, my aim was to reorient — but not rupture — relations with a country that’s been a strategic partner for 80 years,” he said.

He credited Saudi Arabia for helping restore GCC reconciliation, agreeing to the truce in Yemen and said he was “now working with my experts to help stabilise oil markets with other OPEC producers”.

Regional integration is another goal that Mr Biden highlighted for his trip, saying that he will be the first sitting US president to travel from Israel to Saudi Arabia.

His predecessor Donald Trump was the first to take the journey from Riyadh to Tel Aviv in 2018.

A more secure and integrated Middle East is essential to “to global trade and the supply chains we rely on,” he wrote. “Its energy resources are vital for mitigating the impact on global supplies of Russia’s war in Ukraine.”

Politically, he said promoting diplomacy and Arab-Israeli co-operation “is less likely to give rise to violent extremism that threatens our homeland or new wars that could place new burdens on US military forces and their families.”

In his op-ed, Mr Biden directly criticised Mr Trump and his record in the region, mainly for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, and being unable to fend off attacks on US bases and interests in Iraq.

“After my predecessor reneged on a nuclear deal that was working, Iran had passed a law mandating the rapid acceleration of its nuclear programme,” Mr Biden wrote.

“The Middle East I’ll be visiting is more stable and secure than the one my administration inherited 18 months ago.”

He said Iran is more isolated under his term, and pledged to “continue to increase diplomatic and economic pressure until Iran is ready to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal as I remain prepared to do”.

Mr Biden also cited his administration’s shift on the Israeli-Palestinian issue after years of hostility between the US and the Palestinians under Mr Trump.

“Working with Congress, my administration restored approximately $500 million in support for Palestinians,” he said.

“This week, an Israeli prime minister [Yair Lapid] spoke with the president of the Palestinian Authority [Mahmoud Abbas] for the first time in five years,” the US president wrote.

Mr Biden will visit Israel and Palestine on Wednesday and Thursday, where he will meet both leaders, ahead of his Saudi trip.

Updated: July 11, 2022, 5:18 AM