Biden affirms human rights commitment as he warms to Saudis

Jun 3, 2022, 10:33 AM | Updated: Jun 4, 2022, 5:49 am
President Joe Biden speaks about the May jobs report, Friday, June 3, 2022, in Rehoboth Beach, Del....

President Joe Biden speaks about the May jobs report, Friday, June 3, 2022, in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. (AP) — President Joe Biden said Friday he hasn’t changed his views on human rights despite his administration’s praise of Saudi Arabia for getting key oil producers to step up production. As a presidential candidate, Biden had pledged to make the kingdom a “pariah” over its abuses.

Biden said he wasn’t sure whether he was going to Saudi Arabia and has “no direct plans at the moment” to visit the kingdom. He acknowledged he expects to meet with the leaders of Israel and some Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, at some point.

The comments come as the White House has sounded more definitive about the trip. A person familiar with White House planning said Biden has decided to visit Saudi Arabia as well as Israel, likely adding the stops to an already scheduled trip to Europe for a pair of summits this month, but details have not been finalized. The person was not authorized to comment publicly.

“Look, I’m not going to change my view on human rights,” Biden told reporters after his remarks on the May jobs report, when asked about possible travel to Saudi Arabia. “But as president of the United States, my job is to bring peace if I can, peace if I can. And that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

As a candidate for the White House, he pledged to treat Saudis as a “pariah” for the 2018 killing and dismemberment of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s brutal ways. U.S. intelligence officials determined that the crown prince likely approved the killing.

Biden, who is spending the weekend at his Delaware beach home, sidestepped questions from reporters about about whether he would meet with the prince, often referred to by his initials, MBS, should he visit the kingdom.

“Look, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here,” Biden said when asked about such a meeting. “What I want to do is see to it that we diminish the likelihood that there’s a continuation of this, some of the senseless wars between Israel and the Arab nations, and that’s what I’m focused on.”

The OPEC+ group – OPEC nations plus Russia — announced on Thursday they would raise production by 648,000 barrels per day in July and August, offering modest relief for a struggling global economy that’s been impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

OPEC, whose de facto leader is Saudi Arabia, had for months resisted pressure from the White House to increase oil supply more quickly. That stance, along with a European Union agreement to end most oil imports from Russia, has pushed prices higher. Gasoline and diesel prices have also been rising due to a lack of refining capacity to turn crude into motor fuel.

Biden on Friday called the move by OPEC+ “positive,” but said that he did not know if it would be significant enough to help Americans at the pump. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Thursday credited Saudi Arabia for its role “in achieving consensus” within the oil producers’ bloc.

In addition to the White House praising Saudi Arabia for its role securing an OPEC+ pledge, the president this week lauded the Saudis for demonstrating “courageous leadership” by agreeing to a 60-day cease-fire extension in its seven-year-old war with Yemen. The extension was also announced Thursday.

Madhani reported from Washington. AP writer Darlene Superville contributed reporting.

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Biden affirms human rights commitment as he warms to Saudis