Scoop: McGurk in Saudi Arabia to finalize plans for Biden's visit
White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk traveled to Saudi Arabia today to make the final preparations for President Biden's visit to the kingdom planned for July 15, four sources briefed on the trip told me.
Why it matters: Biden's trip, which will reset his administration's relations with the Gulf kingdom, is seen as diplomatically and politically sensitive. He is expected to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman while there.
- Biden once vowed to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah" and relations have been strained over a number of issues, including the kingdom's human rights record and the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
- U.S. intelligence says MBS is responsible for Khashoggi's murder — an allegation Saudi Arabia denies.
- The White House didn't respond to questions about McGurk's trip.
State of play: Biden will arrive in Saudi Arabia after a visit to Israel and the West Bank. He will take a direct flight from Tel Aviv to Jeddah.
- One part of Biden's trip to Saudi Arabia will focus on a summit with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
- The second part will be bilateral and will focus on repairing relations, on the U.S. need for an increase in Saudi oil production and on normalization steps between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
What they're saying: During a press conference in Madrid last week, Biden tried to downplay the bilateral part of his trip amid criticism among some Democrats in Congress.
- "I’m starting off on that trip in Israel and the Israelis believe it’s really important that I make the trip [to Saudi Arabia]," Biden said.
- He then said he is going for the summit taking place in Saudi Arabia, "but it’s not about Saudi Arabia."
- "So there’s no commitment that is being made. ... I’m not even sure ... I guess I will see the king and the crown prince, but that’s not the meeting I’m going to," he added. "They’ll be part of a much larger meeting."
- The president also said that the trip to Saudi Arabia will deal with deepening Israel’s integration in the region, "which is good for peace and good for Israeli security," and with ending the war in Yemen.