The White House announced on Tuesday that US President Joe Biden will carry out a whirlwind tour of the Middle East in mid-July, visiting key allies Saudi Arabia and Israel as well as the occupied West Bank.
The decision to visit Saudi Arabia has raised questions about the pledge Biden made on the campaign trail to recalibrate Washington's relations with Riyadh following an increased focus on human rights abuses on the part of the Saudi royal family.
One of the biggest issues is the 2018 murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey which US intelligence concluded was likely ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seen as the country's de facto leader.
Despite earlier clarifications that the Biden administration would shift US ties with the Saudi crown prince to his father King Salman, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday that in fact, "Yes, we can expect the president to see the crown prince."
Why is Biden visiting Saudi Arabia?
The change in the diplomatic course comes amid a series of geopolitical challenges for Washington.
It was, after all, oil-rich Saudi Arabia that helped to push oil production up to 648,000 barrels a day as the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent fuel prices skyrocketing.
But there is also the threat of Iran's nuclear program and the rising Chinese influence in the region that have left Washington unable or unwilling to give a clear signal on its opposition to Saudi activities.
"While in Saudi Arabia, the President will … discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues with his counterparts. These include support to the UN-mediated truce in Yemen, which has led to the most peaceful period there since war began seven years ago,'' Press Secretary Jean-Pierre said.
"He will also discuss means for expanding regional economic and security cooperation, including new and promising infrastructure and climate initiatives, as well as deterring threats from Iran, advancing human rights, and ensuring global energy and food security.''
What will Biden do in Israel and the occupied West Bank?
The first leg of Biden's trip — which will go from July 13 to 16 — will be in Israel where he will meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is currently dealing with a fragile multi-party coalition.
The visit comes after several Muslim-majority countries in the region normalized relations with Israel during the Trump administration.
Israel has stressed the importance of good US relations with its Arab neighbors as a means to maintain Israel's security and it is hoping that Biden's visit to Jeddah could kick off the normalization of relations with its Saudi neighbor.
However, the Biden administration and the Israeli government have differing opinions on how to approach Iran, with Israel taking a stance against Washington's attempt to restart the Iran nuclear deal.
The US leader is also set to visit the occupied West Bank where he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Biden intends to reiterate his support for a two-state solution and restore US ties with Palestinians that were "nearly severed" under Biden's predecessor Donald Trump.
ab/wd (AP, Reuters, AFP)