President Joe Biden on Thursday stopped short of committing to raise the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi with leaders in Saudi Arabia this week, instead saying he “always” brings up human rights and that his views on the murder have been made “absolutely” clear.
“My views on Khashoggi have been made absolutely, positively clear and I have never been quiet about asking about human rights,” Biden said Thursday when asked whether he would bring up Khashoggi during his meeting with Saudi leadership that is expected to take place Friday.
When Biden travels to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday, he will meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman without Saudi King Salman present, the White House confirmed Thursday.
According to Biden’s schedule, the Saudi king will only be present for about 30 minutes during the bilateral meetings Friday night. The President and the Crown Prince will continue their meeting after the king departs, which was expected because of the king’s health.
Some US officials told CNN they were hoping that MBS and Biden would have some one-on-one time as part of the meeting, though the choreography would likely be driven by the Saudi hosts.
US officials had told CNN ahead of the trip that Biden is likely to bring up Khashoggi’s murder, and the administration is hoping MBS will acknowledge some responsibility for the crime. The US accused the crown prince in a declassified CIA report of having approved the killing of Khashoggi, but he has denied any involvement.
The White House confirmed Thursday evening that Saudi Arabia will open its airspace to all civilian carriers, including flights to and from Israel. The decision, which had been expected, is a sign of warming relations between the two countries.
“This decision is the result of the President’s persistent and principled diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over many months, culminating in his visit today,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
The President earlier on Thursday had defended his decision to travel to Saudi Arabia and meet with MBS, which has garnered bipartisan criticism back home. He said the purpose of the trip was to promote US interests.
“There are so many issues at stake that I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum – a vacuum that is filled by China and or Russia, against the interest of both Israel and the United States and many other countries,” Biden said.
Biden said he will deliver a “direct message” to Saudi leadership on Friday – “a message of peace and extraordinary opportunities that a more stable and integrated region could bring to the region and quite frankly the whole world.”
While oil production is not expected to be the main topic of the meeting, US officials do expect the topic to arise – there is hope that the Kingdom will commit to increasing production in the weeks following the meeting. Biden said Thursday that the reason he is going to Saudi Arabia is “much broader” than just oil and that he is traveling there to promote US interests.
He noted that he’ll be meeting with many leaders of the Middle East and attending a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus three – Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
Biden said he has an opportunity to fix the “mistake” of “walking away from our influence in the Middle East,” another reference to the Trump administration.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.