THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — President Joe Biden landed in Saudi Arabia on Friday, preparing to meet Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman for the first time, a meeting meant to reset the longstanding partnership between their two countries despite American criticism over human rights abuses in the oil-rich kingdom.
Although Biden harshly criticized Saudi Arabia for its crackdown on dissidents, particularly the murder of writer Jamal Khashoggi, those concerns have since been overshadowed by other challenges, including rising gas prices and aggression. Iranian in the Middle East.
The Saudis gave Biden a low-key welcome at Jeddah airport, without any ceremony that accompanied his layover this week in Israel.
Biden was greeted by Makkah Governor Prince Khalid bin Faisal and Saudi Ambassador to the United States Princess Reema bint Bandar, then walked on a lavender carpet that led to the limo that took him to the most anticipated meeting of his trip.
The president was due to sit with King Salman, the 86-year-old monarch who has suffered from poor health, including two hospitalizations this year. Then he was due to take part in a larger gathering including Prince Mohammed, the heir apparent to the throne who is known by his initials MBS.
The future of the region, including the possibility of closer ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, as well as the ebb and flow of global oil supplies could hinge on the relationship between the 79-year-old US president and the 36-year-old American president. former Saudi royal.
The visit can already be considered a victory for Prince Mohammed. His rise to power ushered in a new era for the kingdom as it strives to build a local military and arms industry, wean itself off dependence on oil for revenue, and forge ties with Israel and other nations as a hedge against the perception that the United States is a less reliable security partner.
Biden has declined to speak with the crown prince so far, and Friday’s meeting could lend greater legitimacy to his path to the throne.
There has been much speculation about the choreography and substance of how Biden, who had vowed as a presidential candidate to treat the Saudis as a ‘pariah’ for their human rights record, would interact with the Crown Prince.
When asked if Biden would shake his hand, a senior administration official objected and noted that the White House was “focused on meetings, not greetings.”
Biden declined to say whether he would discuss the 2018 murder of Khashoggi, a US-based journalist and kingdom critic.
Last year, his administration approved the release of a US intelligence finding that determined the crown prince likely approved of Khashoggi’s killing. The release of the report caused a further rift in US-Saudi relations.
“My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear. And I have never been silent in speaking about human rights,” Biden said. “The reason I go to Saudi Arabia, however, is much broader. It’s to promote American interests – to promote American interests in a way that I think gives us the opportunity to reaffirm what I think we made the mistake of walking away from: our influence in the Middle East .
Biden arrived in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on the third day of a four-day trip through the Middle East. He spent the first two days meeting with Israeli officials and flew to the West Bank on Friday to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and others before flying to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis took a step towards normalizing relations with Israel ahead of Biden’s visit, announcing early Friday that he was opening his airspace to “all air carriers”, signaling the end of his strict limits on Israeli flights flying over his country. territory.
Biden hailed the decision as “an important step toward building a more integrated and stable Middle East region,” adding that the decision “can help build momentum for Israel’s continued integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia”.
Biden will also participate in a gathering of leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — on Saturday before returning to Washington. Leaders of Middle Eastern neighbors Egypt, Iraq and Jordan are also present.
The Saudi visit is one of the trickiest Biden has faced on the international stage. Any kind of respectful greeting that Biden can manage, and that the Saudi crown prince can mirror, could help the two sides smooth relations.
But it could also open Biden, already floundering in the polls at home, to deeper criticism that he is backtracking on his promises to put human rights at the center of foreign policy.
Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, said with the visit to Saudi Arabia, Biden was backsliding on human rights.
“It’s a huge setback actually,” Cengiz told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. “It’s heartbreaking and disappointing. And Biden will lose his moral authority by oiling and opportunistically over principles and values.
Biden’s criticism of the Saudis as candidates has grown more muted in recent months as Russia’s war on Ukraine has deepened what was already a global oil and gas supply crisis. . High gasoline prices pushed inflation in the United States to its highest level in four decades.
Saudi political analyst Turki al Hamad said he was not optimistic about the prospects for Biden’s trip.
“Biden and his team will come take a look at the US election and make it better for Democrats by reaching a deal on increasing oil production,” Hamad tweeted, saying “it doesn’t matter.” importance to Saudi leaders”.
Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former US State Department official, said Biden was looking forward to visiting Saudi Arabia “like I would look forward to a canal operation.”
Miller pitted Biden against his predecessor, President Donald Trump, who visited Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip. That trip was highlighted by a mystifying photo op of the leaders gathered around a glowing orb and Trump briefly joining in a ceremonial sword dance.
With Biden and Prince Mohammed, “there won’t be a lot of sword dancing or smiling photo ops or warm hugs,” Miller said.
Knickmeyer reported from Sacramento, Calif., and Megerian from Washington. Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy contributed from Dubai.