Saudis turned Trump’s visit into an extravaganza. They are unlikely for Biden’s.


When President Donald J. Trump chose Saudi Arabia for the first overseas trip of his presidency in 2017, the Saudis were so overjoyed that they turned his visit into a pro-American extravaganza.

They projected giant American and Saudi flags onto the facade of a luxury hotel. They put Mr. Trump in a palace. American flags hung from lampposts along stretches of highway.

Biden’s visit to the kingdom on Friday night, his first visit after nearly two years in office, will no doubt be less acclaimed, not least because during his election campaign he pledged to treat Saudi Arabia as an “outcast” because of his human rights violations , bruises the feelings of an old American partner.

As president, Biden has continued to criticize the kingdom’s human rights record, fueling tensions with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler. The murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2018 was a notable point of contention.

The Saudis have also come to question the government’s commitment to their security, particularly through attacks by Iran and its proxies in Yemen. That sentiment contributed to their decision not to immediately join Washington’s efforts to isolate Russia after the invasion of Ukraine or increase oil production to lower oil prices.

None of those issues clouded Mr Trump’s visit. The Saudis embraced him completely from the start, hoping to have warmer ties with him than with President Barack Obama. They extended his visit to a summit of Islamic nations attended by heads of state and other top officials from dozens of countries.

A transformation of the capital, Riyadh, showed a Saudi fondness for American culture. The Saudi Harley-Davidson club held a drink-free motorcycle rally. Country singer Toby Keith performed to a packed house of Saudi fans, all men.

Perhaps the most famous image from that trip came from a visit to a center for counter-extremism, where Mr Trump, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt laid their hands on a glowing orb. Photos of that moment spawned countless memes.

The visit ended with Mr Trump and other senior officials joining King Salman and the rest of his Saudi hosts in a traditional sword dance.

The attention paid to Mr Trump laid the foundation for the cozy ties the Saudis sought, an investment that paid off for the kingdom during Mr Trump’s presidency.

When Saudi Arabia and some of its Arab neighbors imposed a blockade on Qatar, Mr Trump initially praised the move, though he later worked to close the gap. He lifted restrictions on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite the long record of civilians killed in Saudi bombings in Yemen. And Mr. Trump became the most ardent defender of Prince Mohammed in Washington after Mr. Khashoggi’s assassination, arguing that arms sales to the kingdom created jobs for Americans that should not be endangered for human rights.

Prince Mohammed also grew up well with Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, communicating with him directly via WhatsApp, and sometimes meeting him out of earshot of State Department note-takers, leaving other branches of the government in limbo. remained about what they discussed.

That relationship, too, seems to be paying off, this time for Mr. Kushner. Six months after leaving the White House, he received a $2 billion investment from Saudi Arabia for his new private equity fund.

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