President Joe Biden said Friday he has "no direct plans" to head to Saudi Arabia though he left open the door for a future trip, as rumors swirl around a possible visit to discuss global oil supply and mend strained Washington–Riyadh relations.
Biden made the remarks during a June 3 press conference in Delaware, where he was asked if he's going to go to Saudi Arabia.
"I’m not sure whether I’m going," Biden replied. “I have no direct plans at the moment. We're looking at it.”
He said that “there is a possibility that I would be going to meet with both the Israelis and some Arab countries," adding that he expects "Saudi Arabia would be included in that if I did go.”
Biden was then asked by a reporter whether he still considers Saudi Arabia to be a "pariah," which is how he described the Kingdom while on the presidential campaign trail, in context of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
"Look, I’m not going to change my view on human rights," Biden replied. "But as president of the United States, my job is to bring peace if I can ... and that’s what I’m going to try to do."
In 2018, the CIA concluded that Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had personally ordered Khashoggi’s killing, claims the crown prince has denied.
During the press conference in Delaware, a reporter asked Biden whether he'd be open to meeting with the crown prince if he did end up going to Saudi Arabia.
"Look, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. 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," Biden replied.
At the time, a White House spokesperson downplayed the rumors, telling Axios that "a lot of this is premature speculation."
Those same officials, however, told NBC that the plans were in flux and subject to change.
The outlet described a supposedly tense exchange between the crown prince and Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, in which Sullivan allegedly asked bin Salman about the journalist's slaying. The crown prince reportedly responded by shouting at Sullivan, demanding no more talk of Khashoggi and telling the adviser to forget any oil production boosts.
“Over the course of the last 77 years of Saudi-U.S. relations, there have been many disagreements and differing points of view over many issues, but that has never stopped the two countries from finding a way to work together,” the official told the Wall Street Journal.
The two countries have strong economic and security ties, with the United States being Saudi Arabia's second-largest trading partner.
The State Department says that the Kingdom "plays an important role in working toward a peaceful and prosperous future for the region and is a strong partner in security and counterterrorism efforts and in military, diplomatic, and financial cooperation."