But officials say Biden, under enormous pressure to crack down on Russia and slash domestic gas prices amid inflation rising at the fastest pace since 1981, has put aside his moral anger to pursue warmer relations with the kingdom amid dramatic global turmoil. by the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Both sides have decided that in order to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East, we have to get through this,” a senior US official said, referring to Khashoggi’s killing. The Saudis, for their part, consider the Khashoggi case closed — and have made it clear to the United States, the officials said.
The sources pointed out that this does not mean forgiveness and forgetfulness. They said Biden plans to raise Khashoggi’s murder directly with Mohammed bin Salman, as the crown prince is known, when they meet as soon as next month. Some officials within the administration still believe that more should be done to hold Mohammed bin Salman accountable for the crime. But the shift is now in full swing after months of meetings in Riyadh between two of Biden’s top national security advisers, Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein, and Saudi officials, including Mohammed bin Salman. This has already sparked outrage, with Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, accusing Biden of losing his moral compass.
“President Biden’s decision to meet with Mohammed bin Salman is deeply disturbing to me and to supporters of freedom and justice everywhere,” she said in a statement to CNN.
A Washington human rights defender close to the administration, who was also a close friend of Khashoggi, told CNN he believed that going ahead and doing nothing else to hold Mohammed bin Salman accountable for Khashoggi’s murder would deal a major blow to the emir’s opposition and Arab opponents. around the world.
“The promise of accountability was this man’s only discipline [MBS]He said, “He’s gone now.” When the President of the United States goes to this killer’s hometown to appease him, he not only covers up his past heinous crimes with astonishing impunity but enables his future crimes. It’s a nudge and a wink to commit the next crime in a cleaner, less chaotic manner.”
US officials told CNN that the decision to meet Mohammed bin Salman was a hard-to-swallow medicine for the president, who said in 2019 that Saudi Arabia “has no compensatory social value.” But they said the two countries agreed that the relationship could not be “hostage” to the murder, especially given how much the world had changed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Among the most important U.S. foreign policy goals now are to isolate Russia politically and cut off funding for its war machine by banning Russian oil exports—two goals officials believe would be nearly impossible if Saudi Arabia were not on the side of the United States, especially when it comes to increasing oil production. To try to stabilize the global oil markets. So the president and his top national security advisers believe that “avoiding” Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi murder would be shortsighted.
A US official said outside the White House that worrying economic trends, particularly when it comes to record-high domestic gas prices and high inflation, are also becoming dominating the administration’s priorities and pushing others aside.
“I think desperation in the course of the global economy drives everything,” the official said. “that they [the White House] worried and desperate.”
The official added that “their fear and anxiety are driving them to abandon principles.” “the worst [economic] The results on this are really bad and will kill any hopes for Democrats in November.”
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told CNN en Español on Wednesday that the administration had never sought to “cut” US-Saudi ties entirely, even after the report was released last year that put Mohammed bin Salman at the center of the Khashoggi murder. But he said the United States would continue to “ensure that human rights are fully reflected in our foreign policy.”
Oil prices are the driver behind the reset
Biden’s advisers have said explicitly that the need to increase oil production to stabilize prices is the main driver of Saudi Arabia’s reset.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday that “there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia should hold to account for what it did to Jamal Khashoggi.” But she added, “There is no doubt that we have to increase the global [oil] supply. And OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, is at the head of the group for that.”
There are of course things the Saudis want in return from the United States, including a viable strategy for dealing with Iran — the kingdom’s biggest regional enemy — while the United States struggles to strike a new nuclear deal. Officials said the Saudis also want security commitments, such as continued provision of missile defense systems.
But White House officials argue that Saudi Arabia has been working with the United States in good faith over the past several months, making the White House more confident that a meeting between Biden and Mohammed bin Salman will be productive.
US officials have repeatedly referred to the fragile ceasefire in Yemen reached in April, and Saudi Arabia’s ouster of Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whom many officials in the region and in the United States viewed as an impediment to peace, as major diplomatic victories that were not possible. Were it not for the participation of the United States. The two-month-old ceasefire, which was extended last week, is the first between the Saudis and the Houthis in six years.
“I’m not going to change my view of human rights,” Biden said last week. “But as President of the United States, my job is to bring peace if I can. And that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Working on an ‘Important Agenda’
A spokesperson for the National Security Council noted that Khashoggi’s killing occurred during the Trump administration, telling CNN that the United States “does not look at any behavior that occurred before we took office.” The spokesperson referred to the sanctions imposed by the United States on the Saudis believed to be involved in the killing of Khashoggi and others involved in human rights abuses.
But the spokesperson also said that the United States has an “important agenda with Saudi Arabia, Israel and other countries in the Middle East. This agenda focuses on achieving results for the American people as well as ending wars and leadership through diplomacy to achieve stability in the Middle East.”
Officials believe that last week’s OPEC+ agreement to increase oil production by 200,000 barrels per day in July and August, a decision spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, was another show of goodwill by the Saudis. With help from the United States, relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia are slowly but surely improving, officials noted — and the sources said discussions are now underway, for example, to expand Israeli commercial aircraft access to Saudi airspace. A regional official briefed on the discussions said Israel wanted the Saudis to allow Israel’s Arab Muslims to travel to the kingdom to perform the Hajj.
Several officials said that Israel is pushing hard for the Biden-Mohammed bin Salman meeting. Underlining the changing nature of the Israeli-Saudi relationship, Biden is expected to make an extremely rare direct flight from Tel Aviv to Riyadh on Air Force One while in the Middle East next month, according to regional officials familiar with the plans.
However, these developments are unlikely to satisfy US activists and lawmakers who continue to demand greater accountability and justice for Khashoggi.
Senior House lawmakers wrote that “the highest levels of the Saudi government, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are guilty of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and there is no escaping this stark fact that emerged in the US intelligence community’s public assessment of 2021.” In a letter to Biden earlier this week. We must continue to insist on justice for this horrific crime.”
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