May 31, 2023

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MIDDLE EAST JOURNEY: Biden faces a crucial day of closely watched meetings in the West Bank and Saudi Arabia

MIDDLE EAST JOURNEY: Biden faces a crucial day of closely watched meetings in the West Bank and Saudi Arabia

After that meeting, Biden will fly directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia, It is expected to hold highly anticipated bilateral meetings With Saudi King Salman and his advisors among them Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The White House confirmed Thursday, according to Biden’s schedule, that the Saudi monarch will only attend about 30 minutes during bilateral meetings on Friday evening. The president and the crown prince will continue to meet with them after the king’s departure, which was expected due to the king’s health.

In a declassified CIA report, the United States accused the crown prince of approving the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The crown prince has denied involvement.

The president’s interactions with the crown prince will be subject to intense scrutiny — particularly how he greets Mohammed bin Salman and whether Biden shakes hands with him. The White House has sought to downplay the importance of any greeting between Biden and MBS.

“We are focusing on meetings, not greetings,” a senior administration official told reporters.

The official said, “The president will greet leaders as he does. There are no special rules for one leader or another. So I know we get that question a little bit, but for those of us who do the work, it really is — we focus on the substance of the meetings and not on the special greetings. It goes. Chief to about ten chiefs and will greet them as he usually does.”

Biden’s handshake – or not – was under the microscope During this trip after the White House said the president was looking to reduce contact with others amid the spread of a transmissible alternative to the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Biden has markedly deviated from this directive on multiple occasions during the two days he was in Israel after showing him some bumps after his arrival, fueling speculation that the directive from the White House was a detailed excuse for Biden to avoid shaking hands with the crown prince. .

Biden in Saudi Arabia

The flight to Jeddah The White House has been particularly thorny since it began appearing earlier this year, given the president’s campaign promise to make the nation a “pariah” country for the Khashoggi murder. Biden stopped short on Thursday By committing to raising Khashoggi’s murder directly with leaders in Saudi Arabia, he said he had “always” talked about human rights and that his views on the killing were “absolutely clear and positive”. US officials told CNN in the future From the trip that Biden was expected to take Khashoggi with Mohammed bin Salman.

Overnight, Saudi Arabia confirmed an expected announcement of opening its airspace to Israel Airlines. Biden praised the “historic decision” that followed “months of consistent diplomacy,” noting that he would become the first US president to fly from Israel to Saudi Arabia.

The trip comes amid rising gas prices and rampant inflation in the US and around the world, in part due to Russia’s invasion of Ukrainealthough the president and other officials dismissed Saudi Arabia’s rich oil supplies as a major catalyst for the trip.

A senior administration official said that meetings with the Saudi leadership will focus on strengthening the ongoing truce in Yemen, technological cooperation including in 5G, clean energy, global infrastructure and human rights as well as discussing global energy supplies.

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But the official indicated that US, Saudi and other officials in the Middle East would talk about energy security issues and that Biden would reach out to world leaders to lower gas prices.

“I think the conversation is really focused, given the current market conditions, how do we see things? How do we see the next six months, and how do we keep the markets in balance in a way that contributes to continued economic growth? So that is our shared focus not only with the Saudis but with other producers” .

The official added, “And of course, the president said months ago that he would do everything in his power to bring prices down. That includes issuing our Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That includes diplomacy with other producers, and it includes, of course, domestic production.”

Biden in the West Bank

But before traveling to Saudi Arabia for the most part of his trip, Biden had a string of engagements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and numerous funding announcements aimed at helping the Palestinians.

Biden made remarks at Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, in which he announced that he was asking Congress to approve up to $100 million for the East Jerusalem hospital network. Former US President Donald Trump cut $25 million in planned funding for the network during his time in office.

“It is part of our commitment to support the health and dignity of the Palestinian people,” he said, noting the “heavy toll” of the Covid-19 pandemic on the hospital system.

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He continued, “Working together, I pray that the United States will help alleviate hospital debt and support targeted infrastructure upgrades, and major reforms in patient care to ensure long-term financial stability.”

The meetings follow Thursday’s session with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who on Friday said the president’s visit showed his “commitment to Israel’s military and diplomatic might” and “moved the entire country.”

The President is expected on Friday morning to announce an additional $201 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in support of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon. SyriaAccording to the White House.

Biden is also expected to announce that Israel has committed to working with the Palestinians to accelerate the implementation of the 4G network in Gaza and the West Bank, with the goal of launching that infrastructure by the end of next year.

“One of President Biden’s priorities was to rebuild relations with the Palestinians that were severed by the previous administration,” the official said.

The official said Biden will tell Abbas that Israel has agreed to increase access to the Allenby Bridge so that Palestinians and others can access it 24/7 by September. Israel controls the bridge, which is the only crossing point into Jordan for Palestinians from the West Bank.

“He will also announce steps to build grassroots support for peace, including through support for cooperation and professional exchanges between the Palestinian and Israeli health sectors as they work to build mutual trust,” the official said.

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The United States will also provide an additional $15 million in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians in response to the growing food insecurity caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Before leaving for Saudi Arabia, the official said, Biden is scheduled to visit the Church of the Nativity “to emphasize support for challenged Christians throughout the region.”

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.