Reports that Joe Biden will be first welcomed in Saudi Arabia by a lesser-ranked member of the royal family have fuelled theories that his meetings in the Middle East will not go as well as he plans.
The US president is expected to be met on the tarmac by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the deputy governor of Mecca, before attending the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit where a number of issues are to be discussed.
In contrast, Mr Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump was welcomed by King Salman Bin Abdulaziz when he landed in Saudi Arabia in 2017.
“This is a very bad sign,” European Council on Foreign Relations research fellow Dr Cinzia Bianco tweeted.
She added that it was reminiscent of Barack Obama being received by Prince Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud, the governor of Riyadh, when he travelled to the country in 2016.
Mr Obama’s reception was described by reports as “chilly” due to the tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia over a number of issues including the falling price of oil.
Suspicions that he was being snubbed were only reinforced when King Salman, accompanied by other senior figures, was shown earlier on Saudi state television on the tarmac greeting the leaders of neighbouring nations ahead of that year’s GCC summit.
But Dr Mark C. Thompson, senior research fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, said that the rank of the person who will be welcoming Mr Biden to the country will not indicate how the talks will pan out.
He said that Boris Johnson was first “met by deputy governor of Riyadh on his visit” before he then met de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the royal palace.
On Friday, Mr Biden will be travelling to Saudi Arabia on the back of a trip to Israel. He will be the first US president to travel between the two countries after Saudi Arabia boycotted Israel for decades over the continued occupation of Palestine.
It will also be the first presidential visit to the Middle East since 9/11 without US troops in combat missions there.
Issues that Mr Biden said he wants to discuss at the GCC summit are Iran’s nuclear programme and “support for proxy groups”, the Syrian war, food crises exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, terrorism, and “political gridlock” in Iraq, Libya, and Lebanon.
On Saturday, the day after he is expected to arrive, Mr Biden is to meet the Saudi de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been accused by US intelligence agencies of approving the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.
The prince denied the allegations, and prosecutors blamed “rogue” Saudi agents.
Mr Biden has said, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, that he aims to “reorient – but not rupture – relations” with Saudi Arabia, an assertion that has garnered criticism after he pledged during his presidential campaign to make the country “the pariah that they are” for the murder.
Human rights group Amnesty International said that Mr Biden “must fulfil his promise to put human rights at the centre” of his visit and “do everything in his power to press for immediate and substantive change”.
Paul O’Brien, Amnesty International USA executive director, said: “The Biden administration must stop its brazen support of shocking crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations committed by its allies, knowingly facilitating rampant abuses with impunity.”
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