President Joe Biden is set to meet with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), according to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. The statement from the cabinet-level official appears to contradict what the president said last week.
Biden will make a trip to the Middle East next month, where he will first stop in Israel before attending a meeting of regional leaders hosted by Saudi Arabia. Though the president said last week that he would not meet with the crown prince during the summit in Jeddah, the White House has since reversed course.
Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Granholm said “I think he will meet with the Saudi crown prince,” also answering in the affirmative when asked if the sit-down would be one-on-one.
“There’s a series of meetings around energy overall. The Saudis are very interested, for example, in developing an expertise around hydrogen – clean hydrogen production. So I think there’s a series of topics related to energy on the table,” she added.
The White House has been criticized for its friendly relations with Riyadh. On the campaign trail, Biden vowed to treat MbS as a ‘pariah’ for the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, attempting to set his foreign policy vision apart from then-President Donald Trump, who maintained strong ties with the kingdom.
Since becoming president, Biden has taken only limited steps to scale back the US-Saudi relationship. After Russia invaded Ukraine and Western states sanctioned Moscow, the White House pressed Middle Eastern oil producers to boost output, though was rebuffed by Riyadh. Despite soaring gas prices at home, the Biden administration is now trying to downplay the mounting crisis, insisting the president’s visit to Saudi Arabia would focus on Israel’s security situation, not gas.
As the president condemns Russia’s attack on its neighbor on a near-daily basis, Washington has come under fire for hypocrisy over its continued ties with Saudi Arabia, as the repressive monarchy has killed far more civilians in Yemen than Moscow has in Ukraine. Though hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have perished due to fighting and deprivation linked to the war – a large percentage of them children – the bloodshed goes largely unmentioned by American officials.