The Biden administration is clearly feeling the sting following an avalanche of criticism over his upcoming July 13-16 trip to the Middle East which will include Saudi Arabia, even from the mainstream media and major networks. Given that Jamal Khashoggi, murdered likely upon orders from prince Mohammed bin Salman himself at the Istanbul consulate in October 2018, was a Washington Post columnist and well-known in American media circles, the criticisms even from within the D.C. beltway have only intensified over the past week.
On Friday, President Biden attempted to downplay his first face-to-face meeting with the crown prince and de facto ruler of the kingdom since Khashoggi's death, saying discussions with MbS will take place as part of a broader "international meeting".
"I’m not going to meet with MBS. I’m going to an international meeting. And he’s going to be a part of it, just like there were people part of the discussion today," Biden claimed. He stressed that the reason for the trip to Riyadh is not to meet the crown prince per se. This also following the dubious White House assertions that it's not about pressing the Saudis to pump more oil.
When Biden was asked by reporters about how he's going to address and handle the Khashoggi killing with MbS, the president simply replied – "The same way I’ve been handling it," but without explanation.
Biden is expected to attend a meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) heads of state; however, recent reporting in CBS News contradicts Biden's assertion that he isn't going to meet with MbS, given it seems the Saudis have it in their minds that a meeting will indeed happen:
The Saudis say Mr. Biden will meet separately with both King Salman and MBS, during his visit for the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The official Saudi press release is very precise, even outlining specifically what's on the agenda in the Biden and bin Salman meeting:
"The first day of the visit will include a meeting between the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and President Biden," the Saudis said in a release. "President Biden will meet with His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz. The Crown Prince and President Biden will hold official talks that will focus on various areas of bilateral cooperation and joint efforts to address regional and global challenges, exploring cooperation on emerging technologies, economic investment, space, renewable energy, cybersecurity, climate and environmental initiatives, food and energy security, and expanding trade and commercial ties to enable both countries to confront mutual challenges and seize the opportunities of the 21st century."
Without doubt, Saudi oil output will be high on the agenda amid US consumers facing soaring gas and rising food prices at home.
Earlier last week, Biden also tried to downplay this aspect to the trip too. He had told reporters of the Riyadh trip that "It happens to be a larger meeting taking place in Saudi Arabia. That’s the reason I’m going. And it has to do with national security for them – for Israelis." He continued, "I have a program, anyway. It has to do with much larger issues than having to do with the energy price." Of course, there are few observers who actually believe this.