(new: updated with more details and backgrounds.)
JIDDA / JERUSALEM (dpa-AFX) – Despite continued criticism of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, US President Joe Biden traveled to the strictly conservative Gulf Monarchy for political talks. Biden arrived in the coastal city of Jeddah on his trip to the Middle East on Friday evening. That evening he met King Salman and heir to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman. This is the first time a US president has met a crown prince outside of international heights since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi nearly four years ago.
However, Biden got on his arrival in Jeddah compared to his predecessor Donald Trump extremely nice party. At the airport, he was greeted by the governor of Mecca Khalid al-Faisal and the US ambassador Rima bint Bandar. The heir to the throne was waiting for him in the royal palace. However, there was no handshake – the two of them just collided with their fists. Only with King Salman, the US president shook hands longer.
Is Biden involved in the murder of Khashoggi on the Crown Prince?
Biden defended the trip against criticism earlier and during his first stopover in Israel. According to his security adviser Jake Sullivan, the US president wants to address the human rights situation in the Gulf monarchy. Sullivan said on a flight from Tel Aviv to Jeddah that Biden would speak about it publicly and in closed-door meetings. “The president remains determined to support the cause of human rights.”
Khashoggi was brutally killed by a strike force at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. The US Secret Service sees the Crown Prince – also known by the acronym “MBS” – as directly responsible. He denied having ordered the murder himself.
The meeting with the heir to the throne was “a betrayal of human rights advocates and Saudi dissidents who expect much more from the president,” wrote Abdullah Alaudh of the democratic organization DAWN with another author ahead of Biden’s journey. Khashoggi founded the organization before his death. In the fight for freedom and climate protection, the departure signal could not be worse – the authors explain – also with Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s largest oil producers in mind.
The first tangible success of the trip to Biden
As a sign of Biden’s relaxation and tangible success, the kingdom opened its airspace to flights to and from Israel. Biden spoke of a “historic” step on the “path to a more integrated and stable Middle East region.” The opening was also possible thanks to many months of efforts by his and the Saudi government, he said.
Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority announced Friday night that Saudi Arabia’s airspace would in the future be “open to all airlines that meet the authority’s requirements for flight”. Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, and the government in Riyadh does not recognize the country as a state. This is probably one of the reasons why the official Saudi statement did not refer directly to Israel. On the other hand, Biden’s message clearly mentioned flights to and from Israel.
Reduced flight time when traveling to and from Israel
“After a long and secret trial and intense diplomacy with Saudi Arabia and the United States, we wake up this morning with good news,” said new prime minister Jair Lapid. He thanked the Saudi leadership for the decision. For East Asian travelers, for example, this means significantly shorter flight times to and from Israel.
Originally, flights to and from Israel were almost completely banned over Saudi Arabia. However, the Gulf monarchy has already lifted this on flights between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. Both Persian Gulf countries established diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020 through the United States.
Common enemy of Iran
Saudi accession is considered unlikely. Both countries have been working together for some time behind the scenes, for example on security issues. They feel threatened by a common enemy of Iran and are concerned about its growing influence in the region and its nuclear and missile programs. Saturday’s Gulf Cooperation Council summit, which Biden wanted to attend before returning to the United States, is likely to cover Iran as well.
Biden met on Thursday with Prime Minister Lapid in Jerusalem. The two then stressed that Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Before continuing his trip to Saudi Arabia, Biden met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
No real progress in the Middle East conflict
Biden then reopened for a two-state settlement to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. “The Palestinian nation deserves its own state that is independent, sovereign, vital and cohesive,” said Biden. But he knew that the goal seemed distant. Abbas called on the US to recognize a Palestinian state.
By a two-state solution is meant that an independent, democratic and demilitarized Palestinian state coexists peacefully with Israel. The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has been inactive since 2014. Biden’s visit did not bring any progress. / Cy / jot / stz / cir / jku / scb / DP / men