President Joe Biden distanced himself Friday from an upcoming encounter with controversial Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman, saying the reason for his trip to the oil-rich nation was not to meet the crown prince.
Biden is attending a regional Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia in mid-July. The White House says he will meet the formal leader, King Salman, but also his team, notably de facto leader Prince Mohammed, commonly known as MBS. US intelligence blames MBS for the horrific 2018 murder of Saudi-born critic Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote for The Washington Post.
Asked by reporters about how he would handle the subject when he meets MBS, Biden said, "the same way I've been handling it. I'm not going to meet with -- I'm not going to meet with MBS."
"I'm going to an international meeting and he's going to be a part of it, just like there were people part of the discussion today," Biden said, referring to an international climate summit he hosted earlier Friday.
Biden, who once said the Khashoggi killing had made Saudi Arabia a "pariah," is expected to press for increased Saudi oil production during his trip, in hope of taming spiraling fuel costs and inflation back in the United States.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has also framed the trip as one where the MBS meeting is a sideshow, not the focus.
"The president is going to see over a dozen leaders on this trip," she said. "We can expect the president to see the crown prince as well."
However Saudi Arabia issued a more direct statement, noting simply that Biden would meet with King Salman and then the young heir to the throne.