President Joe Biden started a four-day trek in the Middle East Wednesday, first meeting with Israeli leaders before heading to the West Bank and Saudi Arabia.
The trip comes after Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state during the primaries leading to the 2020 presidential election. Biden’s comments as a candidate came nearly a year after Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated. Prince Mohammed bin Salman admitted he had some responsibility for Khashoggi’s killing.
Biden has defended going on the trip. He authored an op-ed last week in the Washington Post.
“I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia,” he said. “My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad, as they will be during this trip, just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank.”
He said he hopes to unite Middle East foes to stabilize the region.
“On Friday, I will also be the first president to fly from Israel to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia,” Biden wrote. “That travel will also be a small symbol of the budding relations and steps toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world, which my administration is working to deepen and expand. In Jiddah, leaders from across the region will gather, pointing to the possibility of a more stable and integrated Middle East, with the United States playing a vital leadership role.”
The trip was announced around the time the average gallon of gas in the U.S. topped $5. Biden said he was not traveling to Saudi Arabia to discuss oil policy. Saudi Arabia is the second-largest oil producer in the world behind the United States.