WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden, preparing for a trip to Saudi Arabia amid criticism of its poor human rights record, defended his decision in a newspaper opinion piece, insisting that he had long supported reforms and sought to “reorient but not rupture” relations with a longstanding strategic partner.
In the article posted online Saturday night by The Washington Post, Biden pointed to developments in the Middle East that he contended had made the region more stable and secure than when the Trump administration ended, among them intense diplomacy as well as military action against state-sponsored attacks. But his framing of the Saudi relationship in particular appeared defensive, especially with some in the U.S. demanding that he not lend legitimacy to the government with a visit.
Biden linked U.S. strength and security to countering Russian aggression and competition from China, then argued that engaging directly with countries like Saudi Arabia could help promote those efforts. The president said he aimed to strengthen a U.S.-Saudi partnership “going forward that’s based on mutual interests and responsibilities, while also holding true to fundamental American values.”
“I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia,” Biden wrote. “My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad, as they will be during this trip, just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank.”
It was notable that Biden’s op-ed appeared in the Sunday opinion section of the Post, whose writer Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents in 2018.
On that issue, Biden contended he had responded with sanctions against the Saudi forces involved in the killing and issued scores of visa bans for anyone found harassing dissidents abroad. The president also noted that he released a U.S. intelligence report that asserted Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved of the operation that led to Khashoggi’s murder.
Biden is expected to meet with the crown prince during his trip.