Biden recommits to Middle East, but fails on oil, security

STORY: President Joe Biden told Arab leaders on Saturday that the United States would remain an active partner in the Middle East, but he failed to secure commitments to a regional security axis that would include Israel or an immediate oil output rise.

"The United States is invested in building a positive future in the region, in partnership with all of you, and the United States is not going anywhere."

Biden, who began his first trip to the Middle East as president with a visit to Israel, presented his vision and strategy for America's engagement in the region at an Arab summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with six Gulf states, and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

That vision included the hope to lay the groundwork for a regional security alliance – including Israel – to combat Iranian threats.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, said during a news conference after the summit that he was not aware of any discussions on a Gulf-Israeli defense alliance.

“There is no discussion about a GCC-Israel defense alliance or anything of the sort. (flash) The preferred course as regards Iran’s nuclear program is of course dialogue and the diplomatic solution.”

During a meeting Friday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MbS, Biden raised the highly sensitive issue of human rights and the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi – for which Biden said he holds the crown prince responsible.

MbS denies the allegation.

Biden had said he would make Saudi Arabia a "pariah" on the global stage over the killing by Saudi agents, but ultimately decided that the U.S. needs the help of the OPEC giant at a time of high crude prices and other problems related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told Reuters Saturday that MbS said Khashoggi’s killing was “a painful episode” and “a terrible mistake,” but that the kingdom had acted to prevent a repeat of such mistakes.

He added that the U.S. has also made mistakes, including in Abu Ghraib and Iraq.

"His Royal Highness also mentioned to the President that mistakes like this happen in other countries and we saw a mistake like this being committed by the United States in Abu Ghraib and that the United States took steps in order to deal with those who were found guilty and to ensure that mechanisms are put in place to prevent this from happening again… (flash) The idea that one can impose values on other countries - His Royal Highness made clear - does not work. It has not worked when the U.S. tried to impose values on Afghanistan and Iraq, in fact it backfired…”

Biden sought to reach a deal on oil to drive down gasoline prices, but leaves the region empty-handed, hoping the OPEC+ group, which includes Saudi Arabia, Russia and other major oil producers, will boost production at a meeting on August 3rd.

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