Biden defends trip to Saudi Arabia in op-ed
US President Joe Biden wrote an opinion piece for the newspaper The Washington Post ahead of his visit to Saudi Arabia, saying he planned to "reorient" relations with the oil-rich kingdom.
Biden is touring the Middle East from July 13 to 16, stopping off in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories before heading to Saudi Arabia.
"I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia," Biden wrote. "My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad."
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country's de facto leader, is believed to have been behind the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Ankara.
What did Biden write?
The US president argued that his foreign policy had made the Middle East more stable and secure in comparison with the situation under his predecessor Donald Trump.
He also connected US security with countering Russian aggression and competing with China, for which, he argued, Saudi Arabia plays a pivotal role.
"As president, it is my job to keep our country strong and secure," the US leader wrote. "We have to counter Russia's aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world."
"To do these things, we have to engage directly with countries that can impact those outcomes. 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."
Why is Saudi Arabia important to the US?
Biden wrote that he aims to "reorient not rupture" relations with a country that has been a key strategic partner in the region for 80 years.
The kingdom is a major exporter of oil and Biden is expected to push the Saudis to increase the number of barrels being produced per day to counter spiraling gas prices.
During his presidential candidacy, Biden had pledged to make the kingdom a "pariah" following the murder of Khashoggi, but his recent focus has been on praising Riyadh for efforts to end the war in Yemen, where the Saudis recentlyextended a cease-fire.
Saudi Arabia also serves Washington's interest in countering Iranian influence in the region as the two vie for influence in both Yemen and Iraq.
ab/fb (Reuters, AP, AFP)