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Biden fist bumps MBS, but still fails to coax Saudis into signing oil deal

This handout picture released by the Saudi Royal Palace shows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) speaking to US President Joe Biden (L) during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit (GCC+3) at a hotel in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah on July 16, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

The US president’s visit to Saudi Arabia is unlikely to result in a deal to increase oil supply, even with Washington “decalibrating” its relations with Riyadh to go along with a meeting between Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to coax the Saudis into pumping more crude.

Biden told reporters on Friday that little progress had been made to ink an oil deal, despite his determined efforts to get the oil-rich kingdom to increase production amid record high gas prices.

“I’m doing all I can to increase the supply for the United States of America, which I expect to happen,” Biden said after his meeting with Saudi King Salman and his son Mohammed bin Salman, who is the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

“The Saudis share that urgency and based on our discussions today, I expect we’ll see further steps in the coming weeks,” the US president added.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan also confirmed on Friday that Washington does not expect Riyadh to boost oil output at once and awaits the outcome of an OPEC+ meeting on August 3.

“I don’t think you should expect a particular announcement here bilaterally because we believe any further action taken to ensure that there is sufficient energy to protect the health of the global economy, it will be done in the context of OPEC+,” Sullivan said.

Biden has been fiercely criticized for his visit to Saudi Arabia, the country he had promised, when running for president in 2019, to make the “pariah that they are” over its human rights abuses, in particular the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi on the direct orders of the Saudi crown prince, also known as MBS.

His fist bumping with the crown prince on Friday during their first in-person interaction was particularly censured by human rights groups and fellow Democrats.

What goes around comes around

After assuming office in January 2020, Biden continued to shun MBS, with the White House saying the US president is determined to “recalibrate” its relations with Saudi Arabia and engage with the kingdom on a counterpart-to-counterpart basis.

In yet another unfulfilled promise later that year, Biden asserted that America will never again check its principles at the door “just to buy oil” or “sell weapons.”

“America needs to insist on responsible Saudi actions and impose consequences for reckless ones,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations in November 2020.

However, observers have noted a drastic change to that approach in recent months, especially since the beginning of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, which began in February, and the ensuing spikes in oil prices.

Biden’s meeting with MBS has been construed as a “stunning concession” to the infamous Saudi crown prince, who, for his part, has been shunning the US president in recent months.

Marking his first trip to the Middle East as president, Biden landed in Saudi Arabia on Friday on the second leg of his four-day regional tour after visiting the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

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