President Joe Biden said Thursday he will not directly ask Saudi Arabia’s leaders to increase oil production when he visits the kingdom next month, insisting that his trip to the Middle East is not focused on one-on-one engagement with King Salman or Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“That’s not the purpose of the trip,” Biden said at a press conference in Madrid in response to a question about direct engagement with Saudi leadership and how he would balance those interactions with his pledge to more directly address the kingdom’s human rights record.
Biden is set to travel next month to Saudi Arabia to participate in a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council with leaders across the Middle East. There, Biden said he will see the king and crown prince, but he won’t directly ask them about oil production.
“No, I’m not going to ask them,” Biden said. “All the Gulf states are meeting. I’ve indicated to them that I thought they should be increasing oil production generically, not to the Saudi Arabia in particular. I hope we see them in their own interests concluding that makes sense to do.”
Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia marks a reversal of sorts for the president, who pledged during his 2020 campaign to make the kingdom a “pariah” over its record of human rights abuses. Last year, the Biden administration made public a U.S. intelligence report which found that bin Salman approved the operation that led to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
But on Thursday, Biden was insistent that his trip to Saudi Arabia would focus on regional, not bilateral, issues.
“It’s in Saudi Arabia. It’s not about Saudi Arabia. It’s in Saudi Arabia,” Biden said of the summit. “There’s a whole range of things that go well beyond anything having to do with Saudi Arabia.”
The president also stressed the United States’ commitment to Israel, which he will visit before traveling to Saudi Arabia. There, Biden said he will affirm the two countries’ “unbreakable bond” and work to “deepen Israel’s integration to the region… which is good for peace and good for Israeli security.”
Biden will also speak with leaders about managing the war in Yemen, he said.