Israel to take 'central focus' in Joe Biden's potential Saudi Arabia trip

Israel to take 'central focus' in Joe Biden's potential Saudi Arabia trip
Joe Biden's potential trip to Saudi Arabia has prompted backlash. However, the US president on Saturday said he has 'not yet' made up his mind on going ahead with the visit.
3 min read
13 June, 2022
Joe Biden said the potential Saudi visit was not about limiting oil prices [Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post/Getty-archive]

Israel will be a central focus of Joe Biden's potential trip to Saudi Arabia, the US president said on Sunday.

Despite media speculation, Biden said the visit was not about limiting oil prices, which in the US have passed $5 per gallon amid heavy western sanctions on Russia over its brutal invasion of Ukraine.

"The commitments from the Saudis don’t relate to anything having to do with energy," Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Biden as saying.

"It happens to be a larger meeting taking place in Saudi Arabia. That's the reason I'm going.

"And it has to do with national security for them – for Israelis."

There has been mounting speculation that Saudi Arabia could normalise ties with Israel.

Saudi Arabia has so far refused to follow its Gulf allies - such as the UAE and Bahrain - in establishing ties with Israel but Israeli leaders have said normalisation is now a key foreign policy aim for it.

It is not clear if Biden will speak about normalisation during his meeting, although there have been reports the US president is negotiating a deal between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the transfer of ownership of two Red Sea islands from Cairo to Riyadh, according to Axios.

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Speaking outside presidential airplane Air Force One, Biden continued: "I have a programme, anyway. It has to do with much larger issues than having to do with the energy price."

The president's potential Saudi trip has prompted backlash. On Saturday he said he had "not yet" made up his mind on whether to go ahead.

It follows reports in early June that first suggested the move was being considered.

Biden pledged in his 2020 presidential campaign to turn the kingdom into a "pariah" and take Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to task for abuses like the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018.

On Sunday, a source familiar with the planning for the trip said Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia and Israel next month, noting the White House is planning to announce the visit this week.

Biden's trip to Saudi Arabia could include a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the source said.

Earlier this month, at a time when it was thought the Middle Eastern trip would happen in late June, it was suggested Biden would be involved in a conference featuring Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar and other Arab states, Haaretz alleged.

It comes as Democratic and Republican politicians together put forward a bill seeking to boost defence collaboration between various Arab nations and Israel on Thursday.

The Pentagon would participate in the effort, which aims at countering Iran and affiliated proxy groups and specifically concerns air defences.

Reuters contributed to this report.