President Biden travels to Saudi Arabia, a country he once promised would make it a “pariah”

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President Biden plans to visit Saudi Arabia later this month, in a marked departure from his pledge as a presidential candidate to treat the country as a “pariah” country, according to three administration officials who requested anonymity to share details of an as-yet-unannounced trip. .

The president’s trip to Riyadh follows broader efforts by his administration to build relationships with the oil-rich country to bring down the price of gas in the United States, which has risen in recent months.

The officials said the station in Saudi Arabia is expected to be added to Biden’s foreign trip later this month, when he travels to Israel, Germany and Spain.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia was torn apart after the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and outspoken critic of the Saudi government. US intelligence concluded that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince and de facto leader, ordered the murder of Khashoggi.

“We were actually going to make them pay the price, and actually make them pariahs as they are,” Biden said of Saudi Arabia during a 2019 Democratic debate.

He added that there is “very little social recovery value in the current government in Saudi Arabia.”

Now Biden’s trip is likely to raise new doubts about the Biden administration’s pledge to keep human rights at the center of its foreign policy, given Saudi Arabia’s history of abuse, particularly toward women.

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The officials said he is expected to meet the president during his trip to bin Salman, a face-to-face visit that culminates in half a dozen secret visits to Saudi Arabia over the past two years by his adviser on Middle East affairs. , Brett McGurk, and his Special Envoy for Energy, Amos Hochstein.

The two men traveled again to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates last week to advance a range of issues, including a presidential visit and an increase in oil production amid rising energy prices and rising inflation that have stymied the president’s approval ratings, according to the United States. The official, who spoke like the others on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic details.

The decision to grant a presidential visit to the crown prince has divided members of the Biden administration, many of whom have preferred to keep the oil-rich autocracy at a distance after former President Donald Trump’s remarkably close relationship with the kingdom, which has fueled human rights outrage. advocates.

But advocates of maintaining close relations with Riyadh eventually prevailed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The impact of the conflict on oil and gas prices has exacerbated the Biden administration’s concerns about its relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly rejected US requests to increase oil production.

Ultimately, the meeting with bin Salman was seen as a necessary policy measure to bring down energy prices and inflation, despite the campaign’s promise to isolate Riyadh further. It is unclear whether this move will reduce the price of oil significantly.

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OPEC+ member states announced on Thursday that the group would add 648,000 barrels per day in July and August, a modest acceleration of plans already under way to reverse the pandemic-related cuts. The increase in production came amid pressure from the White House for OPEC+ to do more to fill the gap created by sanctions on Russia. But many energy analysts see the decision as having only a modest impact, and whether the production increase will occur during the summer remains unclear.

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