Now, however, the prince is back. May 17, he made an official visit to Washington, including meetings with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and other senior US officials. It would actually be fairer to say he was back again, since he was also in DC in July of last year. Both times he came as an emissary of his older brother, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – “MBS” – the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and the alleged intellectual author of Khashoggi’s murder. Khalid bin Salman’s first visit was a general diplomatic mission; the most recent seems to have included a preliminary discussion of a meeting between MBS and President Biden, possibly this summer. This shouldn’t happen.
Remember Mr. Biden’s pledge during his presidential campaign to make Saudi Arabia’an outcast— and not only because of Khashoggi’s assassination? Saudi Arabia treats domestic dissidents harshly and continues to wage a destructive war in neighboring Yemen, despite a US-backed interim ceasefire currently in place. Mr Biden began his tenure by releasing US intelligence confirming MBS’s role in the Khashoggi affair and refusing to deal directly with the crown prince. But Mr Biden did not impose an asset freeze and US travel ban on MBS, as he could and should have. Furious nonetheless, MBS refused further contacts from the president and rejected US requests to help mitigate rising oil prices by pumping in more Saudi crude.
Elections are approaching in this country, gas prices are at record highs and Mr Biden may be about to give MBS the face-to-face recognition he needs – with more oil to follow . the official White House summary of the meeting between Khalid bin Salman and Mr. Sullivan said they had discussed “coordinating efforts to ensure global economic resilience” – diplomatic language to increase the supply of Saudi oil. In fairness, the war in Ukraine, unforeseen at the start of Mr. Biden’s tenure, has destabilized global energy markets, imposing costs on our European allies as well as the United States. If Mr. Biden makes any concessions – we’re looking for a better word – to MBS, it would be on behalf of others as well as on behalf of himself.
Yet the contrast between professed American principles and American policy would be stark and undeniable. For decades, US presidents have bowed to the Saudi regime, based on a sometimes exaggerated sense of its strategic importance. How much time left?