What's ahead as Biden arrives in Israel for his first trip as President
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Biden has landed in Israel today.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The connection between the Israeli people and the American people is bone deep.
INSKEEP: This is the first stop in a tour that also takes him to Palestinian areas and to Saudi Arabia. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid is in Jerusalem. Hey there, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there, Steve.
INSKEEP: What are you hearing from the president?
KHALID: Well, he landed just a short while ago in Tel Aviv. And he spoke about the history between the United States and Israel and, in fact, his own history as a politician who has visited this country 10 times in the span of the last 50 years. He also spoke about his desire to deepen Israel's integration into the Middle East. And, you know, while he's here, the president will have a range of meetings with Israeli leaders, Israeli politicians. He's also planning to visit the West Bank and meet with Palestinian leadership. But I should point out, Steve, that the president has no formal proposals for the launch of a grand new peace plan, and he spoke to that today.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BIDEN: Greater peace, greater stability, greater connection is critical. It's critical, if I might add, for all the people of the region, which is why we'll be - we'll discuss my continued support, even though I know it's not, in the near term, a two-state solution.
KHALID: You know, as the president himself acknowledged there, the politics on the ground here don't really support that sort of compromise right now.
INSKEEP: What is different about the region and the U.S. role in the region that it might have been in past decades that Biden was there?
KHALID: You know, the White House really wants to show that the U.S. role in the region is different, that it has changed, certainly in the last 20 years with the end of the Iraq War and the U.S. military presence significantly smaller than it once was. And so really what we're hearing from the administration is that the goal of this trip is to maintain the relative stability in the region. The administration's foreign policy has been focused elsewhere. It sees China as the overarching force to be reckoned with. But, you know, Steve, even as I say that, I do think it's worth noting that we do see plans that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is intending to visit Iran. And Biden, no doubt, is concerned about other countries trying to expand their influence in the region. And he's also concerned about spillover effects from Russia's war in Ukraine.
Later on this week, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the president will be meeting with leaders from OPEC countries. And, you know, for months, administration officials have been quietly making the case to these OPEC partners to increase their supply of oil. The White House does note that there has been an increase and they would certainly welcome more, though I should also say analysts have extremely low expectations that this trip is going to fix the price pressures that Americans have been feeling at the pump.
INSKEEP: OK, he's meeting leaders from OPEC countries. I guess that would include the leaders of the host country.
KHALID: That's right, Saudi Arabia. Biden plans to meet with the Saudi royal family on Friday when he lands there in the country. And that includes the crown prince, whom U.S. intelligence says approved of the operation to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. And, Steve, we don't know much yet about what that encounter will look like. You know, there is intense interest in whether the two men will be photographed shaking hands. The White House noted today that the president is planning to minimize physical contact on this trip because of COVID. And when he landed in Israel, Biden made a point of doing fist bumps along the red carpet on the tarmac. But, you know, there are a lot of questions about this sudden switch to possibly avoid handshakes because the president has done a lot of series of events in Washington recently where he's shaken quite a few hands. So we'll see if this sticks.
INSKEEP: NPR's Asma Khalid, watching for the details in Jerusalem, thanks so much.
KHALID: My pleasure, Steve.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.