Starting last month there were unconfirmed reports that the White House could be mulling a high level admin trip to Riyadh - possibly even President Biden himself - in order to beg the Saudis to pump more oil, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and resulting sanctions have put the question of sufficient energy supplies to Europe in peril.
Axios reports Wednesday the White House is looking to send Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a "possible trip to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the occupied West Bank later this month, according to five U.S., Israeli and Palestinian sources" cited in the report.
If confirmed, this would mark the first time Blinken travels to visit directly with Washington's two close oil producing Mideast allies. Apparently this will include stopovers to meet with the Israelis and Palestinians, following closer official relations between Tel Aviv and Gulf Cooperation Council countries in the wake of the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords.
As for Biden's push to ramp up production so that energy prices can find some relief on tapping greater supplies, so far the Saudis have rejected Washington's plea. According to details in Axios:
- Blinken updated Lapid about the planned visit when they met in Riga, Latvia, 10 days ago, a senior Israeli official told me, but the schedule has changed several times since then.
- The trip could happen either immediately before or after Blinken joins Biden at the NATO leaders summit in Brussels on March 24.
- Yes, but: The U.S. and Israeli sources cautioned that events in Ukraine could influence the timing of the trip or lead to its cancellation.
More importantly, Sullivan may have to navigate the behind the scenes drama involving crown prince Mohammed bin Salman who has lately expressed frustration at being snubbed by Biden over human rights abuses, going back especially to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi - a hit widely believed ordered by MbS himself.
According to more from Axios:
A former U.S. official briefed on the situation tells Axios that MBS passed a message to the White House referencing the fact that Biden had previously said his counterpart was not the crown prince but the king, and suggested he, therefore, call him.
This led to, as Axios recounts, "When King Salman took the call from Biden, MBS made sure his talking points didn't include an agreement to increase oil production, according to the former official."