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Biden says US will remain an active partner in the Middle East

Biden is seeking to start a new chapter in U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

U.S. President Biden visits Saudi Arabia
President Joe Biden attends a news conference at Waldorf Astoria in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia July 15, 2022.
REUTERS / Evelyn Hockstein
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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia - U.S. President Joe Biden said on Saturday the United States would remain an active, engaged partner in the Middle East and urged leaders gathered at an Arab summit to see human rights as a powerful force of economic and social change.

"The United States is invested in building a positive future of the region, in partnership with all of you - and the United States is not going anywhere," Biden told the Arab leaders in a speech to kick off the summit.

Biden is seeking to start a new chapter in U.S. involvement in the Middle East, hoping to move past U.S. military conflicts and instead push for a region that respects individual nations' domestic affairs but seeks economic integration and shared defenses amid concerns over Iran.

Biden, on his first Middle East trip as president, has focused on Saturday's summit with six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq while downplaying a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

That encounter has drawn criticism in the United States over the country's record human of rights abuses, most notably the brutal killing of Washington Post journalist and Saudi Arabia critic Jamal Khashoggi. U.S. intelligence believe the crown price was behind the killing, an allegation that he denies.

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Relations between Egypt and the United States were also uneasy in the first months of the Biden presidency amid differences on human rights, before Egypt’s efforts to broker a ceasefire in Gaza in May 2021 prompted re-engagement.

Biden says freedom of the press and democratic rights can result in stinging criticism, but the ability to speak openly and exchange ideas freely is what drives innovation.

"Accountable, accountable institutions that are free from corruption and act transparently and respect the rule of law are the best way to deliver growth, respond to people's needs, and I believe ensure justice," Biden said.

Biden came to Saudi Arabia hoping to strike a deal on oil production to help drive down gasoline prices that are driving inflation to more than 40-year highs and pummeling his poll numbers.

However, he will leave the region empty handed and is hoping his diplomatic efforts here will push the OPEC+ group to boost production when they meet on Aug. 3.

"I look forward to seeing what's coming in the coming months," Biden said.

(Reporting by Steve HollandWriting by Yasmin HusseinEditing by Jane Merriman, Helen Popper and Nick Macfie)

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