Biden defends meet with Saudis, says his views on Jamal Khashoggi killing ‘positively clear’


President Biden on Thursday said that his upcoming meeting with Saudi leaders is not at odds with campaign promises to make the kingdom a “pariah” state over the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi. 

Mr. Biden will travel from Israel to Saudi Arabia for a meeting Friday that will include Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was implicated in the killing of Khashoggi, a U.S.-based dissident journalist and critic of the kingdom’s rulers.

“My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear,” Mr. Biden said in a joint press conference with Israel Prime Minister Yair Lapid. “I have never been quiet about talking about human rights.”

Mr. Biden said his goal in meeting with Arab leaders is to reassert U.S. influence in the region.

“There are so many issues at stake that I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum,” he said. “A vacuum that is filled by China and Russia against the interests of both Israel and the United States, and many other countries.”

Topping his agenda, however, is to push the Saudis to increase oil production to help bring down high gasoline prices in the U.S.

The meeting with the crown prince will be closely scrutinized for Mr. Biden’s adherence to tough rhetoric on human rights that belies the Saudis’ poor human rights record, including the killing and butchering of Khashoggi.

During the 2020 campaign, Mr. Biden said the Saudis should become a “pariah” state after the crown prince and others were implicated in the killing.

Now, Mr. Biden is engaging with the Saudis as a key regional partner and major oil producer, as high gas prices become a drag on his presidency. But he is also under pressure from human rights groups and many on Capitol Hill to take a tough line on the state of civil liberties and political repression inside Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Biden is on his first trip to the Middle East as president. It is his 10th visit to Israel during his political career.

• Jeff Mordock contributed to this story.

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