“I have no direct plans at the moment,” to visit Saudi Arabia, Biden said Friday in Delaware. “There is a possibility that I would be going to meet with both the Israelis and some Arab countries at the time, including, I expect, would be — Saudi Arabia would be included in that if I did go.”
Asked if he would be open to meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he replied: “We’re getting way ahead of ourselves here.”
The US government has said that the crown price was responsible for the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate. Khashoggi was a US resident and Washington Post columnist often critical of Saudi Arabia’s rulers.
Biden said he’s been working on bringing more peace to the region, while adding, “I’m not going to change my view on human rights.”
Still, any visit would demonstrate how Biden’s diplomatic priorities have changed since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. While speaking about Saudi Arabia in 2019, Biden said he would “make them pay the price, and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.”
He has also criticized Saudi Arabia’s involvement in neighboring Yemen’s civil war, which the UN says has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.
While the president focused his comments Friday on a desire to ensure peace in the Middle East, soaring crude prices would color any Saudi visit. High gasoline prices are a paralyzing political headwind for Biden’s party heading into November midterm elections, and the US has called on oil producers to boost output.
US gasoline futures settled at a fresh record of $4.19 a gallon on Thursday, as pump prices also hit a new high, according to the automobile club AAA, at $4.76 a gallon on average.
The Saudi-led OPEC+ cartel agreed Thursday to a modest oil production increase in July and August, a gesture that was welcomed by the Biden administration. The move came after multiple visits to Saudi Arabia by Brett McGurk, Biden’s top White House adviser on the Middle East, and Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s senior adviser for energy security.
Asked about the OPEC+ decision on Friday, Biden called it a positive development but said he didn’t know if the increase would be “enough.”
Biden has also recently praised the Saudis for honoring a cease-fire in the Yemen war, saying Thursday after an extension of the truce that the kingdom has “demonstrated courageous leadership.”