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

The President will also announce that Gulf Arab leaders are pledging more than $3 billion over the next two years in projects that align with global infrastructure and investment.

Biden is scheduled to hold several bilateral meetings with leaders from Iraq, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as well as attend a GCC+3 summit on Saturday. The GCC+3 is made up of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – an alliance of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, 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. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s choking off of Ukraine’s vast wheat exports have also pushed much of the Middle East and North Africa to the brink of food insecurity. large scale.

On Friday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that Biden will cover a wide range of issues in his meetings, “from security to the economy, to regional integration, to cooperation on great global challenges of our time, human rights and a forceful defense of American values ​​and for the President’s personal priorities.”

He said the trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia was designed to ensure that “the United States firmly planted its flag in this region for the long term”, and not allow China or Russia to fill a gap. leadership vacuum. It comes a year after the United States withdrew all American troops from Afghanistan and ended a 20-year war with the Middle Eastern country.

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

The United States declassified an intelligence report last year that concluded bin Salman approved the killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Despite once promising to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the world stage, Biden slammed the crown prince as he greeted him in Jeddah ahead of their meetings. Fellow Democrats and others decried the gesture as too friendly and said it sent the wrong message.

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

He faced Saudi pushback, according to a source familiar with the matter. The crown prince, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, told Biden that any attempt to impose values ​​on another country was seen as counterproductive to the relationship. He then noted that there have been incidents, including the abuse of prisoners by US military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which reflect poorly on the United States.

The recent killing of Al Jazeera Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank and the US response, which drew criticism from Abu Akleh’s family, were also raised by the Saudi side, the source said.

On Saturday, senior administration officials 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 backwards if the president hadn’t come to the region and it would be a step backwards if he hadn’t and wanted to sit down and raise concerns about human rights with foreign leaders around the world,” an official said.

Biden came to Jeddah seeking solutions to one of his main political problems at home – exorbitant gas prices – as diplomacy with Saudi Arabia in the Middle East was seen as one of the few avenues he could borrow to bring down the prices that are straining millions of Americans.

But White House officials have said the president will not return to Washington on Saturday with explicit increases in oil production. There are expected to be increases in the coming months – against the backdrop of increased production levels from the OPEC+ cartel presented at its August meeting.

Responding to a question on Saturday about the possibility of a widely expected Saudi-Israeli normalization deal, an official said “it’s going to take time.”

The Biden administration has sought for months to formalize security and economic agreements between Saudi Arabia and Israel, in an effort to prepare the ground for a normalization agreement between the two countries.

Riyadh is believed to have secret ties with Israel, but has yet to officially disclose those diplomatic ties. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly traveled to Saudi Arabia for a secret meeting with the kingdom’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – a claim that has been denied by the highest. diplomat from Riyadh.

An eventual 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.

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

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