Saudi crown prince survives US moral outrage

(CNN) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has escaped the United States, nearly four years after the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The announcement on Tuesday that President Joe Biden would visit Saudi Arabia next month was not surprising: The White House has been laying the groundwork for days. The president’s decision to visit, as well as lawmakers’ reactions to the trip, fit the pattern in the US-Saudi relationship: Washington recedes in its disgust with Saudi behavior that goes against its values, then returns to his marriage to Saudi Arabia. Favorability due to the Kingdom’s oil wealth and critical strategic location.

Although Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday defended Biden’s upcoming meetings with the Saudis, Senate Majority Leader Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, No. 2 of Schumer, and other prominent Democrats are expressing concern.

Video 2019: What is the link between the United States and Saudi Arabia? 1:11

Durbin told CNN he had “concerns” about Biden’s trip and asked the president to change his plans, but he understood why Biden chose to participate in the visit.

“This worries me. I think the Saudis have shown that they don’t share our values. The Khashoggi incident is an international incident of historic proportions. I can’t help it,” Durbin said, adding later: “It’s a tough decision – keep the energy services of our allies and NATO, do something to increase The world’s oil supply, maybe they’ve lowered gasoline prices, all of these things are timely and important, but I’m sorry to have to do that with the Saudis.”

Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN that the trip was a “really bad idea.”

“His bloodstain has not been cleaned,” Kane said. “And I understand that circumstances are changing. But what is the fundamental problem in the world now? They are the tyrants… I don’t think you would say, ‘Well, circumstances have changed.’ We sat down with a killer who murdered a journalist living in Virginia. I think this is a big mistake. I would meet with others, and I would meet with the Secretary of State. I was going to meet the ambassador of Saudi Arabia. I would have met the king, but I would not meet Mohammed bin Salman (the crown prince).”

Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, another senator on Foreign Relations, said he had some “real concerns,” adding, “I think I need to hear more from the administration to understand what kind of commitments they’ve got from the kingdom to change ways.” .

Durbin’s Republican counterpart, Senate Republican leader John Thune of South Dakota, also objected to the trip, saying, “I hope he focuses on American energy and doesn’t have to deal with the crown prince.”

“He’s been concerned about going there in the past for all the obvious reasons. And it seems like…we’ve had to go along with the Saudis to ramp up energy production because we’re not going to do that here, I think,” Thun added. “.

Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia and the internal crisis

There is no doubt that Biden is making his journey to persuade the Saudis to pump more crude oil to help mitigate the political impact of record US gasoline prices. His visit also comes as a new crisis approaches with Saudi Arabia, the archenemy of Saudi Arabia, Iran, who may soon cross the threshold to build a nuclear bomb.

To quell the controversy, the White House is planning Biden’s visit to a country he has called a “pariah” for the brutal murder of Khashoggi – for which US intelligence has determined the crown prince is responsible – as part of a regional peace initiative. The president will attend a summit with the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq in Jeddah after visiting Israel to show support for the Jewish state’s warm relations with its anti-Iran Arab neighbors.

There will be bilateral meetings with King Salman and his team, which the White House hopes will include the crown prince. White House officials have widely said that Biden plans to raise human rights issues with bin Salman and the Saudis during their talks, but they have repeatedly emphasized that the president seeks to reorient his relationship with the Middle Eastern country.

“We do not condone any behavior that occurred before the president took office,” White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre said Tuesday of the Khashoggi killing, noting that Biden had “issued a lengthy report” from the intelligence community about the journalist’s death.

“Therefore, it is also important to emphasize this while [recalibramos] Relationships, we’re not looking to break them, but the human rights issues, the human rights talks, something the president is raising with several leaders and planning to do.”

Jean-Pierre also praised Saudi Arabia for being a “strategic partner of the United States for nearly 80 years,” adding that “there is no doubt that important interests are intertwined with Saudi Arabia, particularly the recent extension of the armistice in Yemen. Which has saved countless lives.” counted”.

Families United on 9/11, an organization made up of families of people who died during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, sent a letter to the president earlier this month urging him to ensure accountability for the 9/11 attacks a key priority in your conversations with Saudi officials.

John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, told CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday that Biden is expected to discuss “a range of human rights issues” with the crown prince during the trip, but did not say whether the families of 11 September concerns. It will be brought up during upcoming talks.

While the Saudis say they will hold formal talks with the United States, Kirby declined to categorically describe the meetings taking place between Biden and the Saudi government, adding that the president would have “many bilateral discussions” with the nine current heads of state. “And yes, that will certainly include King Salman and his leadership team and we hope that the Crown Prince will be part of those discussions,” he added at the meeting.

However, there is no way to sweeten it.

Sometimes presidents have to do things they see as offensive or seem hypocritical to advance what they see as the national interest; That’s what Biden is doing here. But his visit sends a message to countries like Saudi Arabia that while the United States is embarking on what appears to be a new cold war with China and Russia, repressive behavior is no impediment to relations with the president who laid the redemption of global democracy. at the heart of its foreign policy goals.

Biden, for example, praised bin Salman’s “courage” in extending the truce in Yemen. But it was Mohammed bin Salman himself who started the fierce war that killed thousands of civilians. So Jean-Pierre’s comment on Tuesday that the Saudi move saved “countless” lives in the country was rather deaf.

He was once an outcast. But not anymore.

– CNN’s Megan Vasquez, Ted Barrett, Manu Raju and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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