Biden begins Middle East trip to boost Israel, Saudi Arabia ties
Washington, Jul 12 (EFE).- US president Joe Biden on Tuesday sets off on a tour of the Middle East in a bid to strengthen Israel’s ties with the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, where he will have a highly anticipated meeting with crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Biden will first head to Israel to start his first trip to the region since taking office last year. He will visit the West Bank on Friday before leaving for Saudi Arabia.
He will be the first US president to fly from Israel to Saudi Arabia, a gesture that reflects the rapprochement in recent years between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors.
The White House said the aim of the trip is to deepen Israel’s integration in the Middle East, seizing on the momentum generated by the Abraham Accords, which allowed Israel to normalize relations with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Israel and Saudi Arabia are not expected to establish diplomatic relations during Biden’s trip, but certain friendly steps, such as opening Saudi airspace to Israeli flights to shorten flight times to South and East Asia, might be taken.
The trip could also lay the foundation for greater military cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel with the mediation of the US Armed Forces’ Middle East-focused Central Command, a US source told Efe.
Several Arab nations are in talks with Israel about the possibility of coordinating their missile defense systems to confront Iran.
Despite the White House’s efforts to put the emphasis on Israel, much of the attention will be focused on Biden’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the CIA holds responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The meeting has led to an avalanche of criticism from human rights organizations and US lawmakers, including some Democrats.
In a column in the Washington Post, Biden responded that he has fulfilled the objective set at the beginning of his term: to “reorient — but not rupture — relations with a country that’s been a strategic partner for 80 years.”
Saudi Arabia also leads the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries which reached an agreement with Russian-led oil-producing countries to increase production in July and August, which could lower global prices.
Biden said he would ask the Gulf country to further boost production amid soaring gasoline prices in the US and inflation at a 40-year high.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be on the agenda, albeit not a top priority.
Since taking office in 2021, Biden has restored ties with the Palestinian National Authority, which were severed under Donald Trump, and has resumed aid to the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa).
He has, however, given no signs of backing down from his predecessor’s decision to declare Jerusalem the Israeli capital, but promised to reopen the consulate for Palestinian affairs in Jerusalem that Trump closed in 2019. EFE