WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden said Sunday that Israeli national security would be a major issue during his possible visit to Saudi Arabia, denying that the trip had to do with attempts to cap oil prices that have topped $5 a gallon in the United States.
“The commitments from the Saudis don’t relate to anything having to do with energy,” Biden said outside Air Force One. “It happens to be a larger meeting taking place in Saudi Arabia. That’s the reason I’m going. And it has to do with national security for them – for Israelis.”
He added: “I have a program, anyway. It has to do with much larger issues than having to do with the energy price.”
Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia has generated its share of controversy in the United States. The president seeks to get the Saudis to pump more oil but has been hampered by his campaign promise of holding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable for human rights violations including the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
When Biden’s visit was still expected to take place at the end of June, it was reported that the trip would include a summit of Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, as well as Saudi Arabia.
The summit would come on the heels of bipartisan legislation aimed at bolstering defense cooperation between Israel and the Arab countries with the Pentagon’s involvement. The goal is to thwart threats from Iran and its proxies; U.S. defense officials have publicly encouraged such cooperation for months.
The bill is the main legislation to date aimed at building on the normalization pacts between Israel and Arab nations. Of the nine Arab countries mentioned in the bill, two have decades-long peace treaties with Israel, while two have normalized ties.
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Israel and Bahrain signed a historic formalization of security ties in February, while Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited the UAE last week for his second meeting with President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, days after Israel signed a free trade deal with the UAE – its first such agreement with an Arab country.
Talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel, meanwhile, have intensified in recent weeks ahead of Biden’s expected visit. The United States has been discussing a bolstering of defenses in the region against Iranian missiles and drones – mainly between Israel, the Saudis and the UAE.
Also, the Israeli military will soon assign a permanent liaison officer from the navy to coordinate with the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain.