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Biden Begins Saudi Tour

FILE: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, 12.14.2021

US President Joe Biden landed Friday in Saudi Arabia, sealing a retreat from his campaign pledge to turn the kingdom into a "pariah" over its human rights record.

U.S. President Joe Biden came to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Friday. His arrival directly from Israel marks the first time a U.S. leader has flown to Saudi Arabia from a nation Riyadh does not recognize.

While in Jeddah, Biden is expected to meet with 86-year-old Saudi King Salman before participating in a "working session" headed by 36-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler.

With this visit, Biden now appears ready to re-engage with a country that has been a key strategic ally of the United States for decades, a major supplier of oil and an avid buyer of weapons.

Washington wants the world's largest exporter of crude to open the floodgates to bring down soaring gasoline prices, which threaten Democratic chances in November mid-term elections.

After he took office in early 2021, Biden's administration released US intelligence findings that Prince Mohammed "approved" an operation targeting journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose gruesome killing in Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate spurred global outrage.

Saudi officials deny Prince Mohammed's involvement and say Khashoggi's death resulted from a "rogue" operation, but it severely marred his reputation as a potential reformer.

Saudi Arabia has refused to join the US-brokered Abraham Accords which in 2020 created ties between Israel and two of the kingdom's neighbors, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The kingdom has repeatedly said it would stick to the decades-old Arab League position of not establishing official ties with Israel until the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved.

Biden made clear on Thursday he had no plans to reverse the controversial move by former President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which infuriated Palestinians who see its eastern sector as the seat of their future state.

"I know that the goal of the two states seems so far away," Biden said in Bethlehem.

On Saturday Biden is expected to meet Arab leaders from six-member Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq to discuss volatile oil prices and Washington's role in the region.

Jeddah marks the final stop on Biden's Middle East tour.