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Biden struggles to define agenda ahead of visit to Saudi Arabia


US president says Arab normalisation with Israel and other regional issues are driving his upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia.


Washington, DC – With the war in Ukraine leading to a surge in petrol prices in the United States and around the world, oil production will top US President Joe Biden’s agenda when he visits Saudi Arabia later this month.

But Biden and his top aides have shied away from acknowledging the global energy crisis is driving the visit. Instead, they have cited an array of issues – from normalising ties with Israel, to ending the war in Yemen, dealing with Iran, addressing climate change and developing “counterterrorism” strategies.

Analysts have said this demonstrates Biden’s reluctance to engage with the Gulf kingdom amid human rights concerns, as well as his administration’s efforts to fend off criticism from lawmakers in Washington.

“It could be that the focus on normalisation and trying to stabilise or bring peace to the region is a way to try and shift the narrative over the visit to a more politically friendly terrain for the White House,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Indeed, while many members of Biden’s Democratic Party are sceptical of deepening ties with Riyadh, there is nearly unanimous consensus in Washington favouring expanding normalisation between Israel and Arab countries.

Invoking ‘peace’

On several occasions last month, Biden invoked Israel and “peace” in the region when asked about his visit to Saudi Arabia, even before the trip was confirmed.

“It has to do with national security for them – for Israelis,” Biden told reporters of the visit on June 13. “I have a programme, anyway. It has to do with much larger issues than having to do with the energy piece.”

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