US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel — planned for late June — has now been postponed to July, various US media outlets reported on Saturday.
Speculations about the visit started in mid-May and several US media outlets reported last week that Mr Biden might visit the two Middle Eastern countries as early as late June.
On Friday, President Biden acknowledged that he plans to visit Saudi Arabia soon but indicated that the trip might not take place in June.
“I have been engaged in trying to work with how we can bring more stability and peace to the Middle East,” he said on Friday. “There is a possibility that I would … meet both the Israelis and some Arab countries at the time, including, I expect, Saudi Arabia.”
But he also said that he had “no direct plans at the moment” and was looking at various possibilities. When journalists contacted the White House for clarification, they were told the visit might happen in July, not June as speculated. It would be Biden’s first trip to the region since he came to office in January last year.
The trip would include a summit in Saudi Arabia with the leaders of nine Arab countries, followed by visits to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
US media outlets reported that Biden would also meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he visits the kingdom. The reports speculated that larger political and strategic interests would persuade Biden to meet the prince despite his concerns about his alleged involvement in the murder of a Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing states agreed to boost their output by 648,000 barrels per day in July and to a similar increase in August. But Washington wants a greater increase to ease the impact of its sanctions on Russian oil, imposed after Moscow invaded Ukraine.
The United States and Israeli media reported that Israel has also been talking to Washington about how to establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia continues to publicly proclaim its commitment to the Palestinian cause and insists that it will not normalise its relations with Israel until this issue is resolved.