US President Joe Biden will discuss regional missile and defence capabilities on Saturday when he meets Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, where he will be seeking to integrate Israel as part of a new axis largely driven by shared concerns over Iran, said a senior administration official.
“We believe there’s great value in including as many of the capabilities in this region as possible and certainly Israel has significant air and missile defence capabilities, as they need to.
But we’re having these discussion bilaterally with these nations,” the administration official told reporters.
Biden, on his first Middle East trip as president, has focused on the planned summit with six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq while downplaying meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
That encounter has drawn criticism in the United States over human rights abuses.
Biden had promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the global stage over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, but ultimately decided US interests dictated a recalibration, not a rupture, in relations with the world’s top oil exporter and Arab powerhouse.
The US leader said he had raised the Khashoggi killing at the top of his meeting with the Saudi crown prince on Friday and that to be silent on the issue of human rights is “inconsistent with who we are and who I am.”
The crown prince told Biden that Saudi Arabia has acted to prevent a repeat of mistakes like the killing of Khashoggi but that the United States had made similar mistakes, including in Iraq, a Saudi official said.
The official, in a statement sent to Reuters about Friday’s conversation between the two leaders, said the kingdom’s de facto ruler said that trying to impose certain values by force on other countries could backfire.
Prince Mohammed also raised the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the West Bank and mentioned Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Biden needs the help of OPEC giant Saudi Arabia at a time of high crude prices and other problems related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and as he encourages efforts to end the Yemen war, where a temporary truce is in place. Washington also wants to curb Iran’s sway in the region and China’s global influence.
The administration official said the United States is hopeful it will see an OPEC production boost in the coming weeks. Biden is expected to press other Gulf producers to pump more oil.
The OPEC+ alliance, which includes Russia, meets next on August 3.