Biden Pledges $1 Bn in Food Security Assistance for MENA in His First Visit to Saudi Arabia


US President Joe Biden announced yesterday that his country had committed $1 billion in food security assistance for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, according to a statement by the White House.

Biden arrived in Jeddah on Friday, July 15 in his first trip to the Middle East since he took office in 2021, during which he called for Saudi Arabia to pump more oil to help tame oil prices.

"I'm doing all I can to increase the supply for the United States of America, which I expect to happen," Biden told reporters. "The Saudis share that urgency. And based on our discussions today, I expect we’ll see further steps in the coming weeks."

During his two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Biden met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the first time.

During his presidential campaign, Biden had said he would be tough on Saudi Arabia, holding the government responsible for the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. 

The White House said in a statement on Friday that international forces, which include US troops, will leave Tiran island in the Red Sea by the end of the year, as part of an agreement that paves the way for Saudi Arabia to take control and develop it.

On a separate note, Saudi Arabia's General Authority of Civil Aviation said on Friday it would open its airspace to all airlines when traveling to Tel Aviv, within the framework of Biden's efforts to improve relations in the Middle East.

However, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Farhan bin Faisal downplayed on Saturday talk of normalization with Israel.

The US Embassy in Saudi Arabia announced yesterday an agreement to double the validity period of visitor visas for Saudi citizens to ten years as of August 1.

The US and Saudi Arabia also agreed on the importance of stopping Iran from "acquiring a nuclear weapon," a joint statement carried by the Saudi state news agency (SPA) read yesterday.

The two countries stressed the need to deter Iran's interference in "the internal affairs of other countries, its support for terrorism through its armed proxies, and its efforts to destabilize the security and stability of the region," the statement added.

Biden had begun his first presidential trip to the Middle East with a two-day visit to Israel, before heading to the Gulf.