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He’s in knots about the impending visit from Saudi Arabia

President Biden told the public that he would be “shooting straight” by avoiding obvious truths of his visit to Saudi Arabia.

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President Biden has publicly bragged about his own propensity for speaking the truth, assuring the public that he will “give it to you straight.”

Biden and his top advisers, however, have been tying themselves up in knots with euphemisms, elisions, and even excuses to avoid politically uncomfortable truths in the lead-up to a politically uncomfortable meeting later this week with the Saudi crown prince who is thought to be responsible for the horrifying murder of a journalist.

While President Trump was known for stating “the silent part out loud,” Biden’s reluctance to state the obvious in this case on his trip to Saudi Arabia has simply served to highlight the embarrassing contradictions he has attempted to hide.

I’m curious as to how this visit will be organized. Will there be a meeting photograph, a joint press conference, or a joint statement following the meeting? Will they eat a meal and sit down, you know? stated Marti Flacks, a former representative of the State Department and the National Security Council.

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She mentioned that government representatives requested Biden travel to Saudi Arabia to take part in regional conferences. On the other hand, the Saudis stated that they were eagerly anticipating their bilateral or one-on-one discussions with Biden.

Regarding the cards that the United States is playing, Flacks stated that “these optics actually matter.”

Biden’s foreign policy is not the only reason for his hesitation and hesitance. Since it went awry late last year, he has vowed to keep his negotiations regarding his domestic agenda a secret from the public. According to two administration sources with knowledge of internal discussions, he has mainly refrained from speaking about immigration issues and has resisted aides’ requests for him to give a speech on the subject.

Additionally, he has appeared to be unable to make other choices, such as reducing Trump’s tariffs on China or waiving federal student loan debt.

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The travel to Saudi Arabia is another consideration.

The meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, was not specifically mentioned when the White House announced the trip, which started Wednesday with a stop in Israel. Officials from the administration only reluctantly acknowledged such a meeting was “probable” after being bombarded with inquiries from the media.

Biden’s press secretary fought valiantly to avoid openly responding when asked last month whether the president still stands by his remarks from the 2020 campaign that the Saudis were a “rogue” dictatorship and an international “pariah.” She would only add that Mohammed was found to be responsible for the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, implying that the president concurred with the conclusion of the intelligence report.

According to Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a global risk assessment company in New York, “he said something he shouldn’t have said when he was running and it’s making things very difficult for him now.” “Khashoggi is just one of the issues facing the Saudis. However, they have been a valuable ally and have advanced significantly under MBS.

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Despite the global energy crisis brought on by Russia’s war in Ukraine, the president and his advisors have argued for weeks that the trip to Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with oil. Rising inflation and rising petrol prices domestically are a glaring electoral problem for Democrats who are already expected to lose the upcoming midterm elections.

But in an opinion piece that was published last week, Biden did not even mention the necessity for American energy as a factor in his trip to the oil-rich country. He emphasized the significance of repairing relations between Arab countries and Israel, putting a stop to the Yemeni conflict, dealing with Iran, combating climate change, and creating “counterterrorism” plans.

In addition, Biden made no mention of Khashoggi’s slaying, saying simply that “many disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia.” “My views on human rights are well known and persistent, and when I travel abroad, as I will do on this trip, fundamental freedoms are always on the menu,” he continued.

Photos of Biden hugging Mohammed are one thing that the White House is obviously attempting to avoid.

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Apparently dampening hopes for a potential handshake with the crown prince, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday just before Air Force One touched down in Jerusalem that the president would be “minimizing contact” with foreign leaders on the trip due to growing COVID concerns.

If only Biden hadn’t embraced Israeli leaders shortly after arrival in Tel Aviv and exchanged handshakes, back pats, and embraces with them, that assertion may have been somewhat credible given the increasing caseloads from the new BA.5 model.

Bremmer added, “I wish they would be a little more straightforward around it. “Everything feels defensive and superfluous. We simply need to stop lecturing other nations about how we need their cooperation at a time when the United States is dealing with severely undermined democratic institutions, the legitimacy of our own system, and concerns of principles.

President Trump’s indulgence of the Saudis hasn’t been kind to Vice President Biden, whose sole interactions with the ruling family of Riyadh have been with King Salman. The younger crown prince, who oversees Saudi Arabia’s administration and serves as the nation’s de facto leader, has shunned communication with Biden, ostensibly still upset about the latter’s criticisms of Saudi Arabia during the campaign.

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Brett McGurk, Biden’s senior Middle East envoy, had a lengthy private meeting with Mohammed in Saudi Arabia earlier this year as part of a diplomatic attempt to ease tensions, maintain a crucial bilateral relationship, and pave the way for the crown prince and Biden to interact.

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the possibility of Biden visiting Saudi Arabia took on a new sense of urgency. European nations made an effort to lessen their reliance on Russian gas and oil as a result of the attack. The price of oil has skyrocketed as a result of these activities and disruptions in the world energy markets.

In OPEC+, a group of 23 nations that produces about 40% of the world’s crude, the Saudis are the top oil producer. The kingdom has the greatest capacity to boost production in order to stabilize markets and reduce the price of gasoline.

Given the political repercussions of meeting with MBS, an administration official who wished to remain anonymous in order to discuss private discussions inside the White House said that “it would actually help Biden domestically to explain it and just say, “It is about oil and lowering your gas prices.” But he is reluctant to say so, maybe because the Saudis have not yet pledged their support.

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Biden told reporters that the trip had been planned before the conflict in Ukraine when it was first announced last month. The person claimed that some White House national security staff members were surprised by the remark. The insider said that Biden had rejected multiple requests from advisers to meet with Mohammed, giving in only after the war broke out and petrol prices started to increase.

Biden’s travel to Saudi Arabia most likely would not have happened absent the conflict, according to Gregory Gause, a Saudi Arabia specialist at Texas A&M University. “Oil prices might not have skyrocketed as high as they did if there wasn’t a situation in Ukraine,” he remarked. “I’m not sure if the president would have added Saudi Arabia to the itinerary, but he probably would have traveled to the Middle East nevertheless.”

Even if the White House has attempted to downplay the significance, Gause continued, Biden’s decision to see the Saudis on their own soil is no little thing for the royal family.

“This is the crown prince using the leverage that Saudi Arabia has at this precise time — when oil prices are high — to get himself personally rehabilitated in a Democratic administration,” he said. “For the Saudis, that is tremendously essential. The United States receives a return to a more regular type of relationship with Saudi Arabia in exchange, where the president of the United States can phone Saudi Arabia’s leadership and demand assistance with oil-related issues.

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Tracy Wilkinson, a Times staff writer, contributed to this report.

This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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