Biden pledges $1 billion in food security aid on final day of his Middle East tour

The president will also announce a pledge by Gulf Arab leaders to provide more than $3 billion over the next two years in projects aligned with global infrastructure and investment.

Biden has held several bilateral meetings with leaders from Iraq, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and is scheduled to participate in the GCC+3 summit on Saturday. The Gulf Cooperation Council + 3 is made up of the Gulf Cooperation Council – an alliance that includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman – plus Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.

Large parts of the region have been embroiled in economic turmoil in recent years exacerbated by the pandemic. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s stifling of massive Ukrainian wheat exports have also pushed much of the Middle East and North Africa to the brink of widespread food insecurity.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Friday that Biden will cover a wide range of issues in his meetings, “from security to the economy, to regional integration, to cooperation on the major global challenges of our time, to human rights and forcefully advocating America’s values ​​and the president’s personal priorities.”

He said the trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia was aimed at ensuring that “the United States firmly raises its flag in this region in the long term”, and not allow China or Russia to fill the leadership vacuum. It comes a year after the United States withdrew all American forces from Afghanistan and ended 20 years of war with the Middle Eastern country.

Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia in particular has been closely watched. The president announced several new areas of cooperation aimed at reshaping US-Saudi relations on Friday, but it was his interactions with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that attracted the most attention.

The United States declassified an intelligence report last year that concluded that bin Salman had approved the killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Despite once vowing to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the world stage, Biden’s fist shocked the crown prince when greeting him in Jeddah before their meetings. Our fellow Democrats and others dismissed the gesture as too friendly and said it sent the wrong message.

Biden later told reporters that he raised Khashoggi’s killing directly with bin Salman and said he believed the crown prince was responsible.

A source familiar with the matter said he was met with a Saudi response. The crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, told Biden that any attempt to impose values ​​on another country was seen as counterproductive to the relationship. Then he pointed out that incidents, including the abuse of prisoners by US military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, reflected badly on the United States.

The source said that the recent killing of Al-Jazeera Sherine Abu Akleh in the West Bank and the American reaction, which provoked criticism from the Abu Akleh family, also raised from the Saudi side.

Senior administration officials on Saturday defended the trip as an opportunity to raise concerns about the kingdom’s rights record with the Saudi crown prince. “It would have been a step back if the president hadn’t come to the region and he would have been holding back if he hadn’t come and not been willing to sit down and raise human rights concerns with foreign leaders around the world,” said one of the officials.

Biden came to Jeddah in search of solutions to one of his biggest political problems at home – rising gas prices – where diplomacy with Saudi Arabia in the Middle East was seen as one of the few avenues he could take to lower prices putting pressure on millions of Americans.

But White House officials say the president will not return to Washington on Saturday with outright increases in oil production. Expectations are that there will be increases in the coming months – this was done in the context of the increased production levels in the OPEC + cartel that were laid out at the August meeting.

Asked on Saturday about the possibility of a widely expected Saudi-Israeli normalization agreement, an official said, “It will take some time.”

For months, the Biden administration has sought to formalize the security and economic deals between Saudi Arabia and Israel, in an attempt to pave the way for a normalization agreement between the two countries.

Riyadh is believed to have a secret relationship with Israel, but it has not officially disclosed those diplomatic relations. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was said to have traveled to Saudi Arabia for a secret meeting with the kingdom’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – a claim denied by Riyadh’s top diplomat.

A potential normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia has been hailed as the “crown jewel” of agreements between the Jewish state and the Arab world. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan normalized relations with Israel in 2020 as part of a wave of agreements at the end of former President Donald Trump’s term in office.

CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Allie Malloy contributed to this report.

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