US President Joe Biden’s planned trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia has been pushed back to July, two US and Israeli officials confirmed to The Times of Israel on Saturday.
The US official said there were scheduling issues and that the Biden administration needed more time to plan the trip that will include stops in several countries. Dates for July have not been finalized as the White House is still waiting to hear back from the various host countries, the official said.
The US official added that the delay had nothing to do with the Israeli political situation and that the status of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s fragile coalition is not a determining factor of the president’s plans.
The initial plan was for Biden to visit Israel for two or three days during the week of June 19, continue to Saudi Arabia for a day or two before attending the G7 Summit in Germany on June 26th, the Israeli official said.
They added that the White House was still debating certain aspects of the trip, particularly the portion in Riyadh, which has extra political sensitivities as Biden on the presidential campaign said he would treat the kingdom as a “pariah” state over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Shortly after taking office, Biden released the intelligence report that said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman authorized Khashoggi’s killing.
Biden also scaled back support from a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen amid revulsion over civilian casualties.
NBC News, which first reported the delay, said the Biden administration is putting together plans to hold a summit in July with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which is made up of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
“We are working to confirm dates. When we have something to announce, we will,” an official was quoted as having told the network.
The NBC report came as Biden said Friday that his upcoming trip to Israel had not been finalized while confirming he may also visit Saudi Arabia while in the region. The administration is looking to shore up its Mideast alliances and press Riyadh to increase oil production amid surging energy prices worldwide.
Speculation over the upcoming trip to the Middle East had intensified in recent days, with some reports linking the journey to US-brokered talks between Egypt and Saudi Arabia that could include steps toward normalization with Israel.
“I’m not sure whether I’m going,” Biden responded when asked at a press conference on the economy about whether he’d be traveling to Saudi Arabia.
Biden told Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during their phone call in late April that he planned to visit Israel in the coming months, but no official date was announced.
An Israeli official told The Times of Israel last week that the trip will likely take place the week of June 19 and include a visit by the president to East Jerusalem. A US official said Biden will also travel to the West Bank and meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
AFP contributed to this report.