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Sullivan. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

White House National Security adviser Jake Sullivan is planning to travel to the Middle East next week, including a stop in Saudi Arabia. He would be the most senior Biden administration official to visit the kingdom.

Why it matters: Sullivan's first trip to the region since taking office is expected to include stops in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, sources briefed on the plans tell Axios. All three countries are longtime U.S. partners who have faced some early tensions with Biden.

Relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are particularly difficult after Biden vowed on the campaign trail to “make them the pariah that they are."

  • After taking office, Biden published a CIA report which held Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman responsible for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and stopped arms deals with the Saudis over human rights violations in Yemen.
  • More recently, the U.S. pulled a Patriot missile defense system out of Saudi Arabia.
  • Secretary of defense Austin cancelled a recent trip to Saudi Arabia last minute citing “scheduling issues."

U.S. relations with Egypt are also strained, particularly after the State Department froze $130 million of the annual U.S. military aid to Egypt over President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's human rights record.

  • The U.S. did allow $170 million in military aid to go through, though, and has been working with Egypt to prevent another flare-up between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
  • The Egyptians are also seeking U.S. support in their dispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a project which Egypt views as an existential threat to its water supply.
  • Secretary of State Tony Blinken is also expected to meet his Egyptian counterpart on Thursday in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

The UAE has managed the transition from Donald Trump to Biden without as significant a strain in the relationship.

  • The Biden administration has supported the UAE's engagement with Israel under the Abraham Accords, and allowed a controversial arms deal, signed by the Trump administration in the context of the Israel deal, to go through.
  • Iran will likely be a major focus of Sullivan's visit. The Emiratis want to see the U.S. take a stronger position against Iran's regional activities.

One source said discussions were ongoing to see if the schedule would allow for a stop in Israel as well after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett returns from the UN General Assembly late next week.

The big picture: Biden wants to focus less U.S. attention on the Middle East and more on China, and there have been concerns in all three countries Sullivan will visit about what the withdrawal from Afghanistan means for U.S. engagement in the region.

  • The main U.S. partner in the region during the withdrawal was Qatar, which until 9 months ago was subject to a boycott from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt.

Go deeper

Kenyan president visits White House amid corruption claims

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta visits the White House in 2014. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty

President Biden will announce Thursday during a visit by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to the White House that the U.S. will donate an additional 17 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African Union.

Why it matters: Biden is belatedly seeking to bolster U.S. engagement with the region, which has been a low priority as the administration goes all in on countering China in the Indo-Pacific. But Biden's choice for the first African leader to visit his White House has raised some eyebrows.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congressman criminally charged with lying to feds

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has been indicted on charges he falsified records and lied to federal investigators probing an illegal foreign donation scheme, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.

Driving the news: DOJ says a Fortenberry associate, who later cooperated with investigators, informed him he'd likely received illegal donations from an intermediary for a foreign national, but that Fortenberry denied any knowledge of such a scheme when contacted by the FBI.

"Assassin's Creed," but for schools

"Viking Age: Discovery Tour." Image via Ubisoft

For the third time since 2018, Ubisoft is releasing a nonviolent version of its latest “Assassin’s Creed” game as part of a unique effort to turn one of the medium’s most popular series into an educational tool.

Driving the news:Viking Age: Discovery Tour” transforms last year’s “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla” from a bloody 150-hour game about Viking conquest in 9th century England into a peaceful four-hour game about merchants and monks.