(CNN) — President Joe Biden will announce $1 billion in aid for food security in the Middle East and North Africa on Saturday at a summit attended by key leaders from the region on the final day of his Middle East tour, according to a senior administration official.
The president will also announce that Gulf leaders are committing more than $3 billion over the next two years to projects that align with global investment and infrastructure.
Biden has held several bilateral meetings with leaders from Iraq, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and is scheduled to participate in a GCC+ 3 summit on Saturday. The GCC+ 3 is made up of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an alliance of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, as well as Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
Large parts of the region have been engulfed in economic turmoil in recent years, exacerbated by the pandemic. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s blocking of Ukraine’s vast wheat exports have also pushed much of the Middle East and North Africa to the brink of large-scale food insecurity.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Friday that Biden will cover a wide range of topics in his meetings, “from security to the economy, regional integration, cooperation on the great global challenges of our time, human rights and the vigorous defense of the values of the United States and the personal priorities of the president.”
He said the trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia was designed to ensure “the United States would firmly plant its flag in this region for the long term” and not allow China or Russia to fill a leadership vacuum. It comes a year after the United States withdrew all American troops from Afghanistan and ended a 20-year war with the Middle Eastern country.
Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia in particular has been closely watched. The president announced several new areas of cooperation aimed at reshaping US-Saudi relations on Friday, but they have been his interactions with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman which have attracted the most attention.
The United States declassified an intelligence report last year that concluded bin Salman approved of the killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Despite the fact that he once promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the world stage, Biden punched the Crown Prince’s fist by greeting him in Jeddah before his meetings. Fellow Democrats and others criticized the gesture as too friendly and said it sent the wrong message.
Biden later told reporters that he raised Khashoggi’s murder directly with bin Salman and said he believed the crown prince was responsible.
It was met with pushback from Saudi Arabia, according to a source familiar with the matter. The crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, told Biden that any attempt to impose values on another country was seen as counterproductive to the relationship. He then pointed out that there have been incidents, including the abuse of prisoners by US military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, that reflect negatively on the United States.
The recent killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank of the Jordan and the US response, which drew criticism from Abu Akleh’s family, was also mentioned by the Saudi side, the source said.
Senior administration officials on Saturday defended the trip as an opportunity to raise concerns about the kingdom’s rights record with the Saudi crown prince. It would have been “a backslide if the president didn’t come to the region and it would be a backslide if he didn’t and wasn’t willing to sit down and raise human rights concerns with foreign leaders around the world,” one official said.
Biden came to Jeddah seeking solutions to one of his main political problems at home, skyrocketing gasoline prices, as diplomacy with Saudi Arabia in the Middle East was seen as one of the few routes he could take to lower prices. that are putting pressure on millions of Americans.
But White House officials say the president will not return to Washington on Saturday with explicit increases in oil production. The expectation is that there will be increases in the coming months, within the context of higher production levels in the OPEC+ cartel presented at its August meeting.
Responding to a question on Saturday about the possibility of a widely anticipated Saudi-Israeli normalization deal, an official said “it’s going to take some time.”
The Biden administration has been trying for months to formalize economic and security agreements between Saudi Arabia and Israel, in an attempt to set the stage for a normalization deal between the two countries.
Riyadh is believed to have a covert relationship with Israel, but has yet to officially reveal those diplomatic ties. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia for a covert meeting with the kingdom’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a claim denied by Riyadh’s top diplomat. .
A possible normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia has been hailed as the “jewel in the crown” of agreements between the Jewish state and the Arab world. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan normalized relations with Israel in 2020 as part of a wave of deals at the end of former President Donald Trump’s term.
CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Allie Malloy contributed to this report.