President Biden’s meeting in Saudi Arabia this month with King Salman will include his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of the Kingdom, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council said Thursday.
“The president will sit down in a bilateral meeting with the Saudi king and his leadership team,” NSC spokesman John Kirby said. “As you know, the crown prince is on that leadership team. So he will be a part of that meeting.”
Biden has tried to downplay his plans to meet with MbS by characterizing it as part of a broader meeting. “So certainly, the president will be seeing the crown prince in the context of that larger bilateral discussion,” Kirby said.
Biden has come under heavy criticism for planning to meet with MbS because of the crown prince’s role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was slain at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. US intelligence concluded last year that MbS was behind the killing.
The media focus around Biden’s trip has been on the issue of oil prices, but the president has said that the Saudi visit is more about increasing Israeli-Arab military cooperation in the region. Israel is looking to build an anti-Iran alliance in the Middle East with the US’s Arab allies that has a focus on integrated air defense systems.
Israel has normalized relations with the UAE and Bahrain under the US-brokered Abraham Accords. The Biden administration wants Saudi Arabia to normalize with Israel and is reportedly working on a deal that will transfer Red Sea islands from Egypt’s control to the Saudis.
If the agreement is reached, the Saudis will take steps toward normalization with Israel, including opening its airspace to Israeli flights and allowing direct flights from Israel for Muslim pilgrims.
Biden will be visiting the region from July 13-16. He will stop in Israel and the West Bank before heading to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Besides the meeting with King Salman and MbS, Biden will also attend a summit of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders while in Saudi Arabia.