Biden to Meet with Arab Leaders as US Seeks to Reassert Influence in Middle East

U.S. President Joe Biden meets Saturday with Arab leaders in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he will lay out his vision for U.S. engagement in the Middle East.

Biden will attend the GCC+3 Summit, meeting with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – plus Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

He is also expected to discuss energy security with the leaders of the Gulf countries, but aides say there are not likely to be any announcements on oil output until next month’s meetings of OPEC+, a group of 13 OPEC members and 10 other oil producers, including Russia.

“I don’t think you should expect a particular announcement here bilaterally because we believe any further action taken to ensure that there is sufficient energy to protect the health of the global economy will be done in the context of OPEC+,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters Friday on the flight to Jeddah.

Biden and GCC+3 summit leaders are expected to announce an agreement to connect Iraq’s electric grid to the GCC’s grids through Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, thus reducing Baghdad’s dependence on Iran.

On Friday, Biden met with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, and afterward Biden said they had a “good discussion” on ensuring adequate oil supplies to support global economic growth.

“I’m doing all I can to increase the supply for the United States of America, which I expect to happen,” Biden said.

Biden flew directly to Jeddah from Tel Aviv, just hours after the kingdom announced the opening of its airspace, effectively ending the country’s ban on flights to and from Israel. The gesture from Riyadh is part of a broader warming of relations between Israel and the Arab world as they align against Tehran.

Biden is claiming the move to be the result of his administration’s push toward a more integrated and stable Middle East region.

“That is a big deal. A big deal,” Biden said. “Not only symbolically but substantively, it’s a big deal,” Biden said, adding that he hopes the move will eventually lead to a broader normalization of Saudi-Israeli relations. The two countries currently do not recognize each other.

Biden said his talks with Saudi leaders help to reassert U.S. influence in the Middle East, part of a strategy of engaging the kingdom, whose poor human rights record he has condemned in the past.

“We’re not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China to fill,” Biden told reporters following his meeting with the Saudis. “And we’re getting results.”

At the top of Biden’s meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed and other Saudi royals, both sides ignored shouted questions from the U.S. press, including, “Is Saudi still a pariah?” and “Jamal Khashoggi — will you apologize to his family?”

U.S. intelligence has concluded that the crown prince approved the brutal murder of Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and U.S. resident.

Biden, who during his presidential campaign said the kingdom should be treated as a pariah, told reporters he made his views on human rights and Khashoggi’s murder “crystal clear” to the crown prince, who in turn claimed, according to Biden, that he “was not personally responsible for it.”

“I indicated I thought he was,” Biden said he replied.

Biden’s Saudi visit “came across as a slap” in the face of all those who stand for human rights, said Agnès Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International in an interview with VOA.

“What President Biden is doing is suggesting that human rights are cheap and can be bargained out for a range of other impact,” she said.

Biden’s Middle East trip has also taken him to the West Bank, where he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Jerusalem, where he held talks with Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

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