President Biden is looking to visit the Middle East in July, a spokesperson for the National Security Council told The Hill on Wednesday. 

The White House has yet to publicly announce the trip. The spokesperson said that the administration had considered adding the Middle East visit to the president’s trip to Europe in June but “concluded it’s best to do a stand-alone trip” to the region. 

“It wasn’t moved or postponed,” the spokesperson said. “We concluded it’s best to do a stand-alone trip to the Middle East. We’re looking at dates in July.”

The president is traveling in June to Germany and Spain to attend the Group of Seven meeting and the NATO summit in Madrid.

A source familiar with the planning of Biden’s travel earlier confirmed to The Hill that the administration was in the planning stages of organizing a meeting between the president and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. 

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not confirm a meeting between Biden and the crown prince in response to a reporter’s question on Tuesday but called Saudi Arabia a strategic and important partner. 

“The president will meet with any leader if it serves the interests of the American people. That’s what he puts first,” Jean-Pierre said. “He believes engagement with Saudi leaders clearly meets that test, as has every president before him.”

While 86-year-old Saudi King Salman is the official leader of Saudi Arabia, the crown prince is considered the heir apparent and serves as the day-to-day leader, with immense authority in the kingdom. 

The expected meeting between Biden and the crown prince is drawing muted criticism from lawmakers, who call the kingdom an important U.S. partner but say its leadership is acting “in ways at odds with U.S. policy and values.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Hill on Wednesday that the president’s likely meeting with the crown prince sends an “unfortunate message.” She called for the crown prince to face accountability for his role in the death of U.S.-based opinion journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi Consulate in October 2018. 

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the crown prince approved a plot “to capture or kill” Khashoggi. 

Natan Sachs, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said Biden’s likely meeting with the crown prince allows the administration to “turn the page on the Saudi affair” and push for relief on high gas prices in the U.S. by asking the Saudis to release more oil on the market. 

Biden’s likely trip to Israel will also give the administration an opportunity to eke out a concrete policy win between Israel and its neighbors, Sachs said.

Axios reported last month that the president is looking to ink an agreement to transfer two islands in the Red Sea between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with the discussions involving Israel.

“This trip is a vehicle for the Biden administration to put its own stamp on the Israeli-Arab rapprochement,” Sachs said.

“So making the Abraham Accords not only a [Jared] Kushner affair, but also a Biden one, to a limited degree,” he said, referring to the normalization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain under the Trump administration. 

Tags Biden Jeanne Shaheen Karine Jean-Pierre Middle East Mohammed bin Salman Natan Sachs

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