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 in Saudi Arabia
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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