August 14, 2022

Biden pledges $1 billion in food security aid on final day of Middle East tour

The president will also announce that Gulf Arab leaders are pledging $3 billion over the next two years to projects that align with global infrastructure and investment.

Biden has held several bilateral meetings with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and is scheduled to attend the GCC+ 3 summit on Saturday. The GCC+ 3 is an alliance of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman — Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

Large parts of the region have been mired in economic turmoil in recent years, worsened by the pandemic. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s freeze on Ukraine’s vast wheat exports have pushed much of the Middle East and North Africa to the brink of widespread food insecurity.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Friday that “Biden will talk about a wide range of topics in his meetings, from security to the economy, to regional integration, to cooperation on the great global challenges of our time, to human rights and force advocacy.” America’s Values ​​and the President’s Personal Priorities.”

He said the trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia shows that “the United States has planted its flag firmly in this region for a long time” and that China or Russia should not be allowed to fill the leadership vacuum. It comes a year after the US withdrew all US troops from Afghanistan, ending a 20-year war with the Middle Eastern country.

Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia was particularly closely watched. The president announced several new collaborations Friday aimed at reshaping U.S.-Saudi relations, but it His relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Attracted a lot of attention.

Last year, the United States released an intelligence report alleging that bin Salman approved the killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Despite once vowing to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the world stage, Biden bumped into the crown prince when he greeted him in Jeddah ahead of their meetings. Fellow Democrats and others called the gesture too friendly and said it sent the wrong message.

Speaking to reporters later, Biden said he had directly addressed Khashoggi’s murder with bin Salman and that he believed the crown prince was responsible.

He met with Saudi pushback, according to a source familiar with the matter. The crown prince, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, told Biden that any attempt to impose values ​​on another country is seen as counterproductive to the relationship. He noted that there have been incidents at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that reflect badly on the United States, including the abuse of prisoners by US soldiers.

The source also said that the US response to the recent killing of Al Jazeera Shireen Abu Aghle in the West Bank and criticism from Abu Aghle’s family was brought about by the Saudi side.

Senior administration officials on Saturday championed the trip as an opportunity to raise concerns about the kingdom’s rights record with the Saudi crown prince. “It will be a setback if the president doesn’t come to the region and if he is not prepared to raise human rights concerns with foreign leaders around the world,” an official said.

Biden came to Jeddah to address one of his main political problems at home — skyrocketing gas prices — as a diplomat in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia. Found together in a few passages He could take measures to lower prices that put pressure on millions of Americans.

But White House officials said the president would not return to Washington on Saturday with an apparent increase in oil production. The increase is expected in the coming months — on the back of increased production levels from the OPEC+ cartel at its August meeting.

“It will take some time,” one official said in response to a question on Saturday about the possibility of a widely anticipated Saudi-Israeli default deal.

The Biden administration has spent months trying to formalize security and economic deals between Saudi Arabia and Israel, in an effort to set the stage for a normalization of the two countries.

Riyadh is believed to have secret ties with Israel, but has yet to officially disclose those diplomatic ties. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia for a secret meeting with the kingdom’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — a claim denied by top diplomats in Riyadh.

A potential normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia has been hailed as the “crowning crown” of agreements between the Jewish state and Arab states. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan normalized relations with Israel as part of agreements to end former President Donald Trump’s term in 2020.

CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Allie Malloy contributed to this report.