As a candidate, President Joe Biden was clear that he viewed Saudi Arabia with contempt as a “pariah” state, but now as president, reports indicate he will soon meet directly with Saudi leaders to plead for assistance on several major pressing issues.
Incredibly, the White House has glossed over Biden’s prior harsh critiques of the Saudi Kingdom and is now defending the tentative plans to meet with the “strategic” Middle Eastern ally, Fox News reported.
Such was the unenviable job of White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Tuesday as she sought to spin her way out of conflicting reports and previous statements about Biden and the Saudis.
White House defends planned visit with Saudi’s despite Biden’s prior critiques
Fox News noted that in 2019, during a Democratic presidential debate, then-candidate Biden had ripped into Saudi Arabia as a nation that he would ostracize as a global “pariah” state that would be forced to “pay the price” for its alleged violations of human rights and international norms — particularly the alleged murder and dismemberment of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the regime who was allegedly ordered killed by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
During Tuesday’s press briefing, Jean-Pierre was asked by a reporter if President Biden still intended to “make Saudi Arabia a pariah state?”
After some dancing around the issue, the press secretary said, “So, Saudi Arabia has been a strategic partner of the United States for eight decades. Every president since FDR has met with Saudi leaders. And the President considers Saudi Arabia an important partner on a host of regional and global strategies, including other efforts to end the war in Yemen, contain Iran, and counter-terrorism.”
She went on to add, “As I’ve said, the President will meet with any leader if it serves the interests of the American people. That’s what he puts first. He believes engagement with Saudi leaders clearly meets that test, as has every president before him.”
Biden dodges questions on Saudi Arabia
Jean-Pierre had also referred back to comments Biden made following a speech Friday when he had been asked about the rumors that he would soon travel to Saudi Arabia to meet directly with the crown prince and ask for help in reducing oil prices, ending the civil war in Yemen, keeping Iran contained, and forging peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, among other things.
Biden initially attempted to dodge the question, but when pressed about the impending trip, replied, “I’m not sure whether I’m going. I’m — I have no direct plans at the moment. But let me tell you that I have been engaged in trying to work with how we can bring more stability and peace to the Middle East.”
When asked whether he still viewed the Saudis as a “pariah,” Biden said, “Look, I’m not going to change my view on human rights,” and when asked if he would meet with Crown Prince Bin Salman, replied, “Look, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here.”
Unconfirmed Middle East trip reportedly delayed indefinitely
As for the supposed trip to Saudi Arabia, NBC News reported Friday that it and a visit to Israel had initially been planned for June and would be tacked onto the end of planned visits to Germany and Spain.
However, unnamed White House sources told the outlet that the visits to Israel and Saudi Arabia have since been postponed, albeit with no clear reason why, and might possibly be rescheduled for some undetermined date in July — leaving plenty of time for Biden to make some other gaffe to anger one or both of those allies and further delay already belated meetings.