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Biden in Israel Starting Mideast Mission

FILE: President Joe Biden boards Air Force One for a trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, 7.12.2022, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

White House spokesperson John Kirby said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan misspoke on Wednesday when he told reporters that the United States wished for a Palestinian consulate in East Jerusalem. Kirby said there was no change in U.S. policy regarding the consulate.

As U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Israel Wednesday, White House spokesman John Kirby contradicted National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who said that the U.S. may open a consulate in East Jerusalem for Palestinians to engage Washington.

Biden's predecessor closed that consulate, as well as shuttering the PLO's diplomatic office in Washington.

U.S. President Joe Biden is spending two days in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli leaders before meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday in the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinians, while appreciating the resumption of ties under Biden, want him to make good on pledges to reopen the U.S consulate in Jerusalem.

They also want the United States to remove the Palestine Liberation Organization from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, preserve the historic status quo in Jerusalem and curb Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Biden's talks with Abbas will mark the highest level of face-to-face contact between the United States and the Palestinians since then-President Donald Trump took a tough approach to the Palestinians upon taking office in 2017, abolishing their diplomatic representation in Washington.

Israeli officials said Biden's visit will include what they called the Jerusalem Declaration on the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership.

One official said the joint declaration "takes a very clear and united stand against Iran, its nuclear program and its aggression across the region and commits both countries to using all elements of their national power against the Iranian nuclear threat."

Biden is likely to face questions from Israel and from Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates about the wisdom of his attempts to revive the Iran nuclear deal.

Afterward, he will take a direct flight from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - a first for an American president - on Friday for talks with Saudi officials and to attend a summit of Gulf allies.

U.S. officials say the trip - Biden's first to the Middle East as president - could produce more steps toward normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, historic foes but also two of America's strongest allies in the turbulent region.

"We're making steps gradually toward that end," said an Israeli official. "The fact that President Biden visits Israel, and from here will fly directly to Saudi Arabia encapsulates a lot of the dynamics that have been evolving over the last months."

A centerpiece of Biden's visit will be talks in Jeddah with Saudi leaders including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, accused by the U.S. intelligence community of being behind the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Biden, under pressure at home to bring down soaring gasoline prices that have damaged his standing in public opinion polls, is expected to press Gulf allies to expand oil production to help bring down gasoline prices.

"Biden needs the Saudis to increase their oil production to help keep global energy prices in check," wrote Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan in an opinion piece on Tuesday. "The trip sends the message that the United States is willing to look the other way when its commercial interests are at stake."