A photo of Israel

“... I'll travel to the Middle East to start a new and more promising chapter of America's engagement there.”

United States President Joe Biden in an editorial for The Washington Post ahead of his travels to the Middle East this week.

Published on

jul 12, 2022

Why It Matters: On Tuesday night, President Biden departs for his first presidential trip to Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia. In an opinion editorial published in The Washington Post over the weekend, Pres. Biden emphasized that his focus during his travels will be engaging in "diplomacy intensely" with leaders in the Middle East in order to achieve a "more secure and integrated Middle East ... less likely to give rise to violent extremism that threatens our homeland or new wars that could place new burdens on U.S. military forces and their families."

  • This trip marks the first time since the September 11 terrorist attacks (over 20 years ago) that a U.S. president will visit the Middle East "without U.S. troops engaged in a combat mission there [the Middle East]." Pres. Biden said he intends to "keep it that way."
  • In the president's op-ed, he writes that the Middle East is now "more stable and secure" than it was 18 months ago when he first took office.
  • In one example, he pointed to Yemen — the site of one of the "world's largest humanitarian crises" — in which a war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition has impacted the lives of millions of people. Shortly after Pres. Biden took office, he announced his goals to end the war there.
  • Currently, there is a truce in Yemen which has been holding for nearly three months — its first since 2016, according to think tank Brookings Institution. Pres. Biden explained this truce has allowed for "lifesaving humanitarian assistance" to reach people in Yemen; however, there are reports of alleged violations from both sides. The truce is intended to hold until August, and Pres. Biden is expected to advocate for further diplomacy regarding this situation.

Big Picture: A variety of headlines are expected to come from the president's trip to the Middle East. Questions have surfaced about his intent to discuss Saudi Arabia’s oil production and human rights record, including the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (believed by U.S. intelligence to have approved the killing). Last month, however, Pres. Biden said he was not going to meet one-on-one with the crown prince, stating: "I’m going to an international meeting. And he’s going to be a part of it." He also stated that he has no intention of asking the oil-rich nation to increase its oil production.

A few excerpts from the op-ed:

"I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia. 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."

"As president, it is my job to keep our country strong and secure. We have to counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world. To do these things, we have to engage directly with countries that can impact those outcomes. Saudi Arabia is one of them, and when I meet with Saudi leaders on Friday, my aim will be to strengthen a strategic partnership going forward that’s based on mutual interests and responsibilities, while also holding true to fundamental American values."

"On Friday, I will also be the first president to fly from Israel to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. 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."

"Throughout my journey, I’ll have in mind the millions of Americans who served in the region, including my son Beau, and the 7,054 who died in conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001."

Stay tuned for further coverage on Pres. Biden's trip.

**Update: On Thursday when Pres. Biden was in Israel, he was asked about meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Pres. Biden responded: "With regard to the question you asked me, my views on Khashoggi have — they’ve been absolutely, positively clear. And I have never been quiet about talking about human rights. The question that I’m — the reason I’m going to Saudi Arabia, though, is much broader. It’s to promote U.S. interests — promote U.S. interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity to reassert what I think we made a mistake of walking away from: our influence in the Middle East."

Opinion | Joe Biden: Why I'm going to Saudi Arabia (The Washington Post)

What to watch for during President Biden's trip to the Middle East (NBC News)

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