The White House on Tuesday announced the dates for US President Joe Biden’s long-awaited first trip to the Middle East, which will include stops in Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia from July 13 to 16.
Biden accepted an invitation to visit Israel in late April. The trip was initially planned for late June but was later postponed to July due to what the White House said were scheduling issues. According to an Israeli official, these scheduling issues were related to the Saudi leg of the trip, which was a later addition that exposed the president to criticism from some Democrats, who expected him to maintain a firm stance against Riyadh for his human rights record. .
The trip will begin in Israel, where the president will meet with Israeli leaders, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. An Israeli official told The Times of Israel that Biden will meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The official added that Biden is also scheduled to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and East Jerusalem.
A senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on Monday said the president is likely to visit a US-funded missile defense system in Israel to highlight the White House’s efforts to secure an additional $1 billion in resupply funding. Iron Dome batteries after the war in Gaza in May 2021. . Biden will also “discuss new innovations between our countries that use laser technologies to defeat missiles and other airborne threats.”
The government official said the visit to Israel will also focus on “increasing integration of the Jewish state in the region through the Abraham Accords – normalization agreements that Jerusalem has signed with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco – through strengthening the Israel’s ties to Israel and Egypt and through the creation of a new forum established by the Biden administration that includes the US, UAE, Israel and India – I2U2.”
While in Israel, Biden will attend an I2U2 virtual summit alongside Bennett, UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed and Indian President Narendra Modi, the U.S. official said, in what would be the highest-profile meeting. forum level so far. The leaders will discuss “the food security crisis and other areas of cooperation between the hemispheres where the UAE and Israel serve as important centers of innovation”.
Biden’s trip will also coincide with the opening of the Maccabean Games, which brings together Jewish athletes from around the world to Israel for an Olympic competition and is being held for the first time since 2017. The president may have the opportunity to meet with some of the participants, said the top US official.
“He has a lifelong connection to the country and has accused [all of us with making] certainty that we are doing all we can to strengthen Israel’s security, prosperity and integration in the greater region – both now and in the long term,” added the US official.
Bennett welcomed the White House’s announcement, saying in a statement that the visit “will deepen the special relations as well as the strategic partnership between the countries, as well as the United States’ commitment to the security and stability of Israel and the region. .”
During the trip, “US steps to strengthen Israel’s integration in the Middle East, along with agreements to strengthen US-Israel security and civil cooperation” will be “revealed,” Bennett said.
The Israeli prime minister also praised Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia “and his efforts to strengthen the common interests of states and expand regional peace.”
Biden will also travel to the West Bank, where he will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders. Those meetings will likely take place in Belém, the US official said.
Despite Biden re-establishing ties with the AP and announcing the restoration of half a billion dollars in aid that had been almost entirely cut off by his predecessor, Ramallah grew increasingly frustrated with the Democratic president’s failure to deliver on his promises to reopen missions to the Palestinians. in Jerusalem and Washington.
The administration official said Biden and Abbas will discuss “ways in which we can reignite a new political horizon that can guarantee equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians.”
The Palestinian Authority has been pushing for more talks on diplomatic initiatives as its popularity among Palestinians continues to plummet, while the terrorist group Hamas has strengthened in recent months, capitalizing on intense clashes on the Temple Mount.
Israel has argued that the sides are not ready for high-stakes talks over a two-state solution, with the ruling coalition led by Bennett – an opponent of the Palestinian state – barely holding up and with the PA particularly weakened in Ramallah.
The US seems inclined to agree with Israel while arguing that a political horizon must still be maintained and nurtured so that the sides can one day be ready for such negotiations. It has been particularly critical of unilateral steps by both sides that complicate prospects for a two-state solution.
The administration official told reporters on Thursday that the president’s visit to the West Bank will be the “beginning of what we hope will be a new and reinvigorated dialogue — both between the United States and the PA, but also between the PA and capitals.” regional and, more importantly, [the PA and] Israelis”.
Biden will then fly directly from Israel to Jedda – a rarely used route that requires Saudi approval and represents a small step towards normalization with the Jewish state. While in Jedda, he will attend the annual GCC+3 summit with leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, as well as Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
Asked whether Biden will meet with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, whom US intelligence has held responsible for authorizing the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the administration official said: “We can expect the President to see the Crown Prince ”.
The meetings in Saudi Arabia will cover the UN-brokered truce in Yemen, expanding regional security and economic cooperation, deterring threats from Iran, advancing human rights and ensuring global energy and food security, the official said.
“I think the president will discuss some very innovative initiatives that we have underway at CENTCOM in the Red Sea – some unique naval task forces, which we will discuss on the security side,” the official said. Biden officials are working to form a joint defense infrastructure between Israel and its Arab neighbors against Iran.
The US is also brokering talks between Saudi Arabia and Egypt aimed at finalizing a deal to transfer the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir from Cairo to Riyadh.
The islands feature prominently in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement and the transfer would require a degree of Israeli support. As a result, the US and Israel are pressing Riyadh to take a series of small steps towards full normalization with Jerusalem in exchange for Israel’s compliance with the island’s transfer.
Biden said Sunday that his visit to Saudi Arabia will also address Israel’s national security.
Asked whether Biden will raise the Khashoggi murder during his meetings with Saudi officials, the Biden administration official said on Monday that the US is not ignoring the conduct that took place before the president took office. However, these discussions will take place behind closed doors.
After promising during his presidential campaign to treat Saudi Arabia as a “rogue state,” Biden has more recently worked to strengthen ties with Riyadh in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. US-led international sanctions against Moscow have led to dramatic spikes in oil costs at home and Washington has been pushing the Saudis to help compensate by producing more oil to replace sanctioned Russian oil.
The government official highlighted the recent decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Riyadh is a leading member, to increase its planned supply increases by 50% this summer.