President Biden, speaking at a summit of Arab leaders, said Saturday that the United States "will not walk away" from the Middle East as he tries to ensure stability in a volatile part of the world and boost the global flow of oil to reverse rising gas prices. His remarks, delivered to the Gulf Cooperation Council on the final leg of a four-day Middle East tour, came amid concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions and support for militants in the region. "We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran,” Biden said, per the AP. "We will seek to build on this moment with active, principled American leadership." Although US forces continue to target terrorists in the region and remain deployed at bases throughout the Middle East, Biden suggested he was turning a page after the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Today, I'm proud to be able to say that the era of land wars in the region, wars that involved huge numbers of American forces, is not underway," he said. He announced $1 billion in US aid to alleviate hunger in the region and pressed his counterparts, many of whom lead repressive governments, to ensure human rights, including women's rights, and allow their citizens to speak openly. "The future will be won by the countries that unleash the full potential of their populations," Biden said, and that includes allowing people to "question and criticize leaders without fear of reprisal." Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, convened the summit. He also hinted that the kingdom could pump more oil than it is currently, something Biden is hoping to see when an existing production deal among OPEC+ member countries expires in September.
Biden's attendance at the summit followed his Friday meeting with the Saudi crown prince, heir to the throne currently held by his father, King Salman. The 79-year-old Biden had initially shunned the 36-year-old royal over human rights abuses, particularly the killing of US-based writer Jamal Khashoggi, which US intel officials believe was likely approved by the crown prince. But Biden decided he needed to repair the long-standing relationship between the two countries to address rising gas prices and foster stability in the volatile region. Biden and Prince Mohammed greeted each other with a fist bump, a gesture that was swiftly criticized by some lawmakers in the US, as well as by the slain journalist's fiancee. Biden later said he didn't shy away from discussing Khashoggi's killing when he and the crown prince met, which created a "frosty" start to the discussion, per a US official.
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