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Biden: I won't directly ask Saudis to increase oil production during visit

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 has said he will not directly request the leaders of Saudi Arabia to increase oil production to curb soaring crude prices when he visits the kingdom next month.

Speaking at a press conference in Madrid, Spain, Biden on Thursday insisted that his trip to the Middle East is not focused on one-on-one engagement with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

“That’s not the purpose of the trip,” Biden said when asked about direct engagement with Saudi leadership.

Biden said that Americans will have to deal with high gas prices for "as long as it takes" to defeat Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.

Biden will visit the Middle East in mid-July as the US and other countries are facing soaring fuel prices that are driving up inflation.

Biden has sought to play down any direct talks with the Saudi Crown Prince, who was accused by American intelligence of ordering the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Biden said he would not particularly ask Saudi leaders to increase oil production, instead, he said he would continue to make the case that all Persian Gulf states should raise oil output.

"I've indicated to them that I thought they should be increasing oil production generically, not to the Saudis, particularly," Biden told reporters.

Biden claimed the agenda of the Middle East trip includes much more than energy policy and reiterated that the meetings will include leaders from many Persian Gulf nations.

"It’s in Saudi Arabia, but it’s not about Saudi Arabia," he said.

US officials said that Biden will meet separately with King Salman and his team on the trip, which will include the crown prince and other Saudi officials.

The price for a gallon has doubled since Biden took office in January last year, but that same gallon costs $4.86 on Thursday, down slightly from the $4.94 that they were paying a week ago, according to data from the non-profit American Automobile Association (AAA). The association said the average gallon of gas cost only $2.39 during the first week of Biden’s presidency.

The gasoline prices are a problem for Biden and his fellow Democrats ahead of the November midterm congressional elections.

Since the beginning of Russia's military operation in Ukraine and the ensuing spikes in oil prices, the US president has made great efforts to control fuel prices as well as isolate Russia.

Many analysts believe that Biden's current move to travel to Saudi Arabia is in line with the effort.

The Project on Middle East Democracy has said that the visit "is a slap in the face to activists, dissidents, women human rights defenders, journalists, & everyday citizens - in Saudi and abroad - who have been imprisoned, disappeared, and murdered.”

US relations with Saudi Arabia have been strained since the assassination of Khashoggi.

Biden, after winning the presidential election and even in the election campaign, had repeatedly said that bin Salman was the main perpetrator of this crime. But to date, no practical action has been taken by the White House in this regard.

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 for the 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.

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