WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden is likely to visit Saudi Arabia later this month as part of an international trip for Nato and Group of Seven meetings, according to people familiar with the matter, with record-high US gas prices weighing on his party's political prospects.
Traveling to Saudi Arabia would mean Biden would almost inevitably meet its effective ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, whom the US president blames for the 2018 murder of a US-based columnist in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate.
The people familiar with the matter said only that a Saudi Arabia trip was likely, without confirming a meeting with the crown prince. They asked not to be identified because Biden's travel plans haven't been finalized.
The president is expected to attend a Nato summit in Madrid and a G-7 meeting in Munich at the end of the month.
Early in Biden's presidency, the White House said he would deal directly only with Saudi Arabia's official head of state, King Salman bin Abdulaziz -- a snub of the crown prince, known as MBS, who controls most levers of power in the kingdom.
But pressure has grown on Biden to relent to a meeting with Bin Salman as US gasoline prices have spiraled to record highs during his presidency. He has threatened federal price-gouging probes and ordered a record release of oil from US reserves to try to cut prices at gasoline pumps, to little effect.
Though Saudi Arabia had previously declined to accelerate increases in its oil exports, the Financial Times reported Thursday that the nation has indicated to Western allies that it is prepared to increase its oil supply.
Oil tumbled below $113 a barrel in Asian trading on Thursday following the report, which comes ahead of a monthly OPEC+ meeting at which the group is expected to ratify a modest increase in output for July. The FT report, citing people familiar with the talks, said Saudi Arabia may boost oil output should Russia's production fall substantially due to sanctions following its war in Ukraine.
Saudi Arabia had previously argued that the energy crunch could get significantly worse later this year, and believed it needed to keep spare production capacity in reserve. The Biden administration has said that world demand for crude is rebounding far faster than anticipated after the Covid-19 pandemic.
The slaying and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident, and Washington Post columnist, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul deeply damaged the kingdom's relations with the US government. Soon after he took office, Biden's administration released a declassified report pinning the blame for the murder on the crown prince.
The prince has denied any involvement, though he's said he accepts responsibility for the killing as Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler.
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