POTUS landed in the West Asia, Wednesday, to kickstart his first trip in the region since assuming office in January 2021. After Israel, Biden takes off for Saudi Arabia, again his first trip since the Presidency. Air Force One will make an unprecedented direct flight between the Jewish state and the conservative Gulf kingdom that does not recognise its existence.
Significantly, Biden’s trip comes close on heels of a very recent interview on CBS News. Saad Al-Jabri, who was once the number two official in Saudi intelligence, went on air saying MBS is a “psychopath” and his immense wealth makes him a threat to the US and other countries around the globe. He dubbed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a “killer” with “infinite resources,” helming a vicious gang of mercenaries called the “Tiger Squad” to carry out kidnappings and killings.
In Jeddah on Friday, Biden is expected to meet MBS. The meeting is significant considering that the relations between US and Saudi nosedived following the revelations that dissident journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi was killed and “washed down the drain with acid,” allegedly at the behest of MBS in 2018.
Here’s a quick look at what’s on the agenda:
1) Stabilise Oil Markets: Ever since the war in Ukraine, global markets and crude oil prices have been very volatile. Biden’s visit is being seen as a means to re-engage with a country that has been a key strategic ally of the United States for decades and a major oil supplier.
2) Treatment of Journalists: US intelligence believes that the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, approved the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. In the aftermath of his brutal killing, dozens of activists, writers, moderate clerics and economists remain imprisoned for their criticism of the regime. Under MBS, scribes are known to “vanish overnight” or their properties confiscated for some engineered reason.
3) Oil and Energy Sources: With the Nord Pipeline boycotted ever since the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Europe too has been on the lookout for energy-rich domains. Biden’s entry into Arabia is a strategic visit to re-align energy availability to major consumers, sans Russian input.
4) Israel-Palestine conflict: Biden’s Israel visit is a bid to broaden the cooperation against Iran. Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who assumed office less than two weeks ago, has said talks “will focus first and foremost on the issue of Iran.” Israel expanded its regional reach with US backing in 2020, when it formalised ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco — breakthroughs that came after its peace accord with Jordan, in 1994, and Egypt in 1979. On Wednesday, POTUS visited Israel’s missile defence installations.
5) India: Even though Biden’s focus will be to strategically realign US interests in West Asia, he will be convening a virtual summit with the leaders of Israel, India and the United Arab Emirates under a new moniker the I2U2. It might seem like an unlikely collection of countries, but there are hopes for a productive collaboration.