Biden will make his first presidential trip to the Middle East next month
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
President Biden is planning to go to the Middle East next month. It's his first trip to the region since entering the Oval Office. Now, while Biden has spoken a lot about a reset for foreign policy after four years of Donald Trump's isolationist worldview, it hasn't been clear what exactly that reset means for the Middle East. Let's bring in NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. All right. So the trip is in July. What do you know about where he's going and what he'll be doing?
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: He'll have three stops, Israel, the West Bank and then Saudi Arabia. And he'll meet with nearly a dozen counterparts from the Arab region. The president will begin his travel in Israel on July 13. Biden does also intend to meet with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and reiterate his administration's support for a two-state solution. From there, he'll then go on to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, where he'll attend a summit with nine regional heads of state.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, the Israel part of the trip - all U.S. presidents typically make a trip to Israel early on in their presidency. So what is President Biden hoping to do there?
KHALID: Well, earlier this year, Congress passed the largest funding package for Israel in U.S. history. And a lot of that money is geared toward missile defense. The president will likely visit an area where those defense systems are used. He will also focus on this trip on Israel's economic and political integration in the region. A senior administration official officially - you know, he cited the Abraham Accords as part of that. You might recall those were the deals negotiated in late 2020 by the Trump administration between Israel and some neighboring Arab nations. This White House has embraced the Abraham Accords. But, you know, there are certainly critics out there who say that that cuts Palestinians out of the equation. I spoke to Khaled Elgindy about all of this. He's a former adviser to Palestinian leadership, now at the Middle East Institute. And he pointed out that the Biden administration has maintained a number of Trump's policies here, whether it's keeping the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem or recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel.
KHALED ELGINDY: It's not a shared vision or shared politics, but I think it's just inertia. I think it's a lack of political will. It's a desire to avoid the issue as much as possible. But doing very little has consequences.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, I know the president is getting some political heat from fellow Democrats over the trip. They don't understand why he would go to Saudi Arabia after saying during the campaign that the kingdom is a pariah state. So Asma, what has changed there?
KHALID: Well, you're right. Middle East experts, you know, they tell me that it's the reality of aspirations getting hit upside the head by just real-world problems. Biden made those comments, calling Saudi Arabia a pariah, because of the public outcry over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That's something that U.S. intelligence has determined was approved by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Experts tell me it might have been easier for Biden to continue to give Saudi the cold shoulder. But Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to a spike in oil prices. So having an oil-rich ally by your side like Saudi is important right now. I will say, A, though, that there is another dynamic at play here. You know, the president himself has spoken about the need to go to Saudi for broader national security reasons. A senior administration official told us reporters last night that the truce in the war in Yemen is a good example of effective engagement with the Saudis. And this White House has made it clear that it wants a secure and stable Middle East. It wants to focus on other parts of the country - other parts of the world, you know, namely China. It doesn't want the Middle East to be a distraction.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks a lot.
KHALID: My pleasure.
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