Biden to visit former 'pariah' Saudi Arabia: US media

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

US President Joe Biden, who once called for Saudi Arabia to be made a pariah, will visit the kingdom this month, according to American media reports.

The reported decision on Thursday comes hours after Saudi Arabia addressed two of Washington’s requests by agreeing to increase oil production and helping extend a ceasefire in Yemen, AFP reported.

Saudi Arabia launched the bloody war against Yemen in March 2015 in collaboration with a number of its allies and with arms and logistics support from the US and several Western states.

Several US media outlets, quoting anonymous sources, reported on Thursday that Biden would go ahead with the Saudi visit on an upcoming trip to the Middle East.

CNN reported that the US president would meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was accused by American intelligence of ordering the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A team of Saudi operatives murdered Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "The president will look for opportunities to engage with leaders from the Middle East region."

Biden plans this month to travel to a NATO summit in Spain and Group of Seven summit in Germany.

He is also widely expected to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Biden had promised during his election campaign to hold the Saudi leader accountable for the brutal murder of the Saudi journalist who was residing in the US.

He also called for Saudi leaders to be treated as "the pariah that they are" when the kingdom was having a friendly relationship with his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Biden later broke his promise saying he was not going to hold a head of state accountable for murder.

“We held accountable all the people in that organization – but not the crown prince, because we have never, that I’m aware of … when we have an alliance with a country, gone to the acting head of state and punished that person and ostracized him,” Biden told ABC News last year.

He said Washington would not target Riyadh with financial sanctions or a travel ban.

Trump had largely shielded Saudi Arabia from consequences after Khashoggi's murder.

Trump's son-in-law and top aide, Jared Kushner, had developed a close link with Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler.

Democratic members of the US House of Representatives had introduced two bills to penalize MBS for his personal role in the violent murder of Khashoggi.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said back then that the legislation would freeze the Saudi crown prince’s assets and impose a visa ban on him.

Biden also scaled back support from a Saudi-led war in Yemen amid disgust over civilian casualties.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly managed to get the support of US administrations that initially sought a greater distance.

US officials were surprised on Thursday as major oil producers led by Saudi Arabia grouped under OPEC+ agreed to a larger than expected hike in oil production.

A rise in supply could help bring down skyrocketing prices at the pump, seen as a major contributor to plunging poll numbers for the Democratic Party that faces difficult congressional elections in November.

Officials in Washington said that Saudi Arabia was also supportive in diplomacy that led Thursday to the extension of a fragile two-month truce in Yemen.

"Saudi Arabia demonstrated courageous leadership by taking initiatives early on to endorse and implement terms of the UN-led truce," Biden said in a statement.

The objective of the Saudi-led war in Yemen was to return to power the former Riyadh-backed regime and crush the popular Ansarullah resistance movement, which has been running state affairs in the absence of an effective government in Yemen.

The war has stopped well shy of all of its goals, despite killing tens of thousands of Yemenis and turning entire Yemen into the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Yemeni forces have continued to grow stronger in the face of the Saudi-led invaders, advancing toward strategic areas held by Saudi-led mercenaries, including Ma’rib province, and conducting several rounds of counterstrikes against Saudi Arabia and the UAE in recent months.


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