(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Joe Biden is weighing a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman as soon as next month, according to people familiar with the matter, after avoiding contact with the crown prince over the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The move will mark a shift for Biden. Early in his presidency, the White House had said that Biden would deal only with Saudi Arabia’s official head of state, King Salman. An administration official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Biden may visit the Middle East for meetings with the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional political and economic union, and noted that Saudi Arabia currently holds the presidency of the group.
The people familiar with the matter asked not to be identified because a meeting remains under discussion. CNN reported earlier that planning was underway for a meeting between Biden and MBS, as he is also known.
A spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council said they have no travel to announce at this time.Saudi Arabia’s Center for International Communication, and the Saudi Embassy in Washington, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The slaying and dismemberment of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post columnist, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 deeply damaged the kingdom’s relations with the US government. Soon after he took office, Biden’s administration released a declassified report pinning 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.
Yet spiraling US gasoline prices have raised pressure on Biden to make amends with MBS because he effectively controls the levers of power in the kingdom. Earlier this week Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz, 86, left hospital after treatment and recovery that included a colonoscopy.
International consumers have called on Saudi Arabia and its partners to fill the gap left by a boycott of Russian crude and help ease the inflationary pain caused by prices near $110 a barrel.
A gallon of gas currently costs about $4.59 at the pump on average, according to the auto club AAA. In California, the price is over $6 on average. Biden has ordered a record release of oil from US reserves to try to combat gasoline price increases, but the move has had little effect. The average price of gasoline has increased 40 cents in the past month, according to AAA.
At stake is a decades-old partnership that’s guaranteed U.S. clout in the world’s top energy-exporting region.
Biden has been reluctantly drawn into closer ties with Saudi Arabia’s king-in-waiting, Bloomberg reported in March, forced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to rethink a standoffish approach amind a shifting geopolitical landscape with China an increasingly assertive superpower.
The outreach, which has also coincided with US efforts to heal frictions with Saudi Arabia’s neighbor the United Arab Emirates, follows months of efforts by some senior administration officials to convince a wary president that ignoring the de facto Saudi leader was hampering U.S. foreign policy goals.
Saudi Arabia is the Middle East’s economic powerhouse and for years has been a political heavyweight in the region’s affairs and a dominant force in OPEC+ -- a powerful alliance between the oil-exporters’ cartel and Russia.
Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” during his presidential campaign, a reflection of his revulsion over Khashoggi’s murder and a desire to retreat from his predecessor’s warmer relations.
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