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With a Little Help From Increasing Gas Prices, Saudi Crown Prince Outlasts US Moral Indignation

Almost four years after the murder and mutilation of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has outlasted the United States.

The White House has been planning for days, so President Joe Biden’s announcement on Tuesday that he will visit Saudi Arabia next month was not unexpected.

And the President’s visit, as well as lawmakers’ reactions to it, follow a familiar pattern in the US-Saudi relationship: Washington recoils from Saudi behaviour that runs counter to its values, only to be drawn back into the marriage of convenience due to the kingdom’s oil wealth and strategic importance.

Although Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer defended Biden’s upcoming meetings with the Saudis on Tuesday, Senate Majority Whip Illinois Senator Richard Durbin told CNN that he has “concerns” about Biden’s trip and has called on the President to change his plans, but that he understands why Biden chose to go.

“It’s something that worries me. Saudi Arabia has shown that they do not share our principles, in my opinion. The tragedy involving Khashoggi has reached historic proportions on a global scale.

“I’m not going to be able to avoid it,” Durbin said, later adding, “It’s a difficult decision.” Maintaining energy services for our allies and NATO, taking steps to improve global oil supply, and possibly lowering fuel prices are all priorities. All of this is timely and crucial. But, alas, he must do it with Saudis.”

The trip is a “very awful idea,” according to Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“His blood stain hasn’t been washed away,” Kaine stated. “Also, I understand that things change. But, right now, what is the world’s most pressing problem? Authoritarians are to blame…. ‘Well, circumstances change,’ I don’t suppose you’ll say. We sat down with a killer who assassinated a Virginia-based journalist.’

It’s a huge blunder in my opinion. I’d meet with others — the foreign minister, for example. I’d schedule a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s ambassador. I’d talk to the King, but not MBS.”

“I believe I need to hear more from the administration to understand what sort of pledges they’ve gotten from the kingdom to modify their practises,” said Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


“I just hope he would focus on American energy and he wouldn’t have to deal with the Crown Prince,” Durbin’s Republican counterpart, South Dakota Senate Republican Whip John Thune, said of the trip.

“For obvious reasons, he has previously expressed reservations about visiting there. And it just seems… having to go hat in hand to Saudi Arabia to enhance energy production because we won’t do it here — I think it’s awful that an American president is put in that situation “Thune completed the sentence.

Biden’s trip is almost certainly intended to encourage the Saudis to pump more crude oil in order to assist mitigate the political fallout from record-high US fuel prices. His visit also comes as a new crisis looms with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-foe, which is on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon.

The White House is portraying Biden’s journey to a country he labelled “a pariah” following Khashoggi’s grisly murder, for which US intelligence decided the Crown Prince was responsible, as part of a regional peace drive, in order to defuse the situation.

After visiting Israel to show support for the Jewish state’s strengthening relations with anti-Iran Arab neighbours, the President will attend a conference in Jeddah with the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq.

The White House expects the Crown Prince to attend bilateral discussions with King Salman and his entourage. And while White House officials have stated that Biden intends to bring up human rights issues with bin Salman and the Saudis during their talks, they have also stated that the President wants to realign the country’s relationship.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said of Khashoggi’s assassination, “We are not overlooking any conduct that occurred before the President entered office,” adding that Biden “released a thorough report” from the intelligence community on the journalist’s murder.

“So, although we [recalibrate] connections, we are not aiming to rupture relationships — but human rights issues, human rights discourse, is something that the President brings up with many leaders and plans to do so,” she stated.

Jean-Pierre also complimented Saudi Arabia for being “a strategic partner of the United States for nearly 80 years,” saying that “there’s no doubt that key interests are intertwined with Saudi Arabia, especially the recent extension of the Yemen cease-fire, which has saved countless lives.”

9/11 Families United, a group of families who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, wrote to President Obama earlier this month, urging him to make accountability for the atrocities a top priority in his talks with Saudi officials.

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Biden is expected to discuss a “range of human rights issues” with the crown prince during the trip, according to National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby on CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday, but he did not say whether 9/11 families’ concerns would be raised.

While the Saudis say they’ll hold official talks with the US, Kirby refused to categorise the meetings between Biden and the Saudi government, saying that the President will have “lots of bilateral discussions” with the nine heads of state in attendance, adding, “And yes, that will certainly include King Salman and his leadership team, and we would expect the Crown Prince to be part of those discussions.”

Even so, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s not pretty.

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