President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, could meet for the first time as soon as next month, multiple sources told CNN. A meeting would come after months of diplomatic heavy lifting and represent a turnabout for a US president who once declared Saudi Arabia a “pariah” with “no redeeming social value.”
Biden administration officials are in talks with the Saudis about arranging a potential in-person meeting while the President is overseas next month, current and former US officials said. Saudi Arabia currently holds the presidency of the Gulf Cooperation Council, so any engagement between Biden and bin Salman, known as MBS, would likely coincide with a meeting of the GCC in Riyadh, the sources noted.
“You should count on something like this happening, it just comes down to when, not if,” a former US official familiar with the discussions said. Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment.
A meeting between American and Saudi leaders would have once been considered routine, but now marks a significant shift due to the recent strain in the relationship. It would also likely spark some controversy at home for Biden, who has been highly critical of the Saudis’ record on human rights, its war in Yemen, and the role its government played in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
For Biden, a return to better relations with Saudi Arabia reflects the sometimes uncomfortable choices a leader must make when navigating the complex politics of oil, human rights and the web of Middle Eastern relations.
Talk of a rapprochement with the Saudis, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, comes as gasoline prices continue creeping higher in the US.
The balance is particularly difficult because Biden repeatedly criticized his predecessor, Donald Trump, for his cozy relationships with the world’s strongmen and dictators – including MBS of Saudi. Biden entered office vowing to restore democratic values to US foreign policy and had sought to recalibrate relations with Riyadh.
Biden has not engaged directly with MBS, considered the day-to-day ruler of Saudi Arabia, since taking office, opting instead to speak directly with MBS’s father, King Salman, the ailing 86-year old monarch.
The President was opposed to engaging with Prince Mohammed as a matter of principle because of his role in the murder of Khashoggi, US officials said. Just three months into Biden’s presidency, his chief of intelligence released a declassified report stating that MBS was ultimately responsible for Khashoggi’s grisly murder.
The Biden administrati