President Biden on Friday downplayed an upcoming meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman planned for his July trip to Saudi Arabia, as he balances current U.S. interests against his past criticism of the kingdom’s leadership.
On his way to Delaware Friday morning, the president was asked how he’ll handle the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi when he goes to Saudi Arabia next month.
“Same way I’ve been handling it,” Mr. Biden told reporters on the White House South Lawn. “I’m not going to meet with — I’m not going to meet with MBS, I’m going to an international meeting. MBS is going to be part of it, just like there were people part of the discussion today.”
As a presidential candidate in 2019, Mr. Biden said the U.S. would make the Saudis “pay the price” and treat them like “the pariah that they are” over Khashoggi’s murder and other human rights concerns. U.S. intelligence concluded the crown prince, known as MBS, ordered the killing, which the Saudis deny.
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 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.”
And a U.S. official confirmed to CBS News the U.S. does, in fact, expect Mr. Biden to meet with MBS separately, as the Saudis stated, in addition to the broader summit the president mentioned Friday morning.
Mr. Biden’s visit to the Middle East includes stops in Israel and the West Bank, in addition to Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi, a former Washington Post columnist, was murdered in October 2018 after entering a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. A February 2021 report concluded MBS approved the operation that led to his death.
The meeting with the Saudis comes as oil prices in the U.S. and elsewhere soar, driven in part by Russian Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. On Friday, Mr. Biden criticized oil companies for their profit margins, saying gas prices should be lower.
“One of the things that’s happening is the price of gasoline is the price based on the barrel of oil costs right now,” the president told reporters. “So, if you just base it on what a barrel of oil costs, it should not be this high. They’re making exorbitant profits, number one. Number two, I’ve contacted them, my team has, to ask what their plans are and to give any suggestions they have. They have over 9,000 leases, 9,000, they can drill — that won’t happen. They’re not doing that, number two.”
The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Russia are the world’s largest oil producers.
— Margaret Brennan contributed to this report