© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden speaks after the House of Representatives passed his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 27, 2021. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House took the rare step of recognizing the role played by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in extending a ceasefire in Yemen on Thursday ahead of what is expected to be a trip to Riyadh by President Joe Biden.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that bin Salman and Saudi King Salman deserved credit for their roles in the truce extension announced earlier in the day.
“This truce would not be possible without the cooperative diplomacy from across the region. We specifically recognize the leadership of King Salman and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia in helping consolidate the truce,” she said.
As recently as Wednesday the White House said Biden still felt bin Salman was a “pariah” for what U.S. intelligence says was his role in the killing and dismembering of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018.
Sources familiar with the process say Biden is planning a trip to Saudi Arabia in conjunction with a trip to Europe and Israel in late June.
The visit would be aimed at bolstering relations with Saudi Arabia at a time when Biden is trying to find ways to lower high gasoline prices in the United States.
Biden is aiming to participate in a Riyadh summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional union whose members are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, sources said.
Jean-Pierre would not confirm the Biden trip is planned but said: “What the president is focused on first and foremost is how his engagements with foreign leaders advance American interests. That’s as true with Saudi Arabia as anywhere else.”
Further enhancing the prospects for a Biden trip was a decision by OPEC + to increase its oil production by 200,000 barrels in July and August, a move welcomed by the White House. [L1N2XP03N]
“We recognize the role of Saudi Arabia as the chair of OPEC+ and its largest producer in achieving this consensus amongst the group members,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
The murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul sparked a furor in the West and tainted Prince Mohammed’s image as a reformist. The Saudi government has denied any involvement by the crown prince in the murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who was critical of the kingdom’s rulers.