“My views on Khashoggi are categorically and positively clear, and I have not been silent on the question of human rights,” Biden said on Thursday when asked if he would bring up Khashoggi during his meeting with the Saudi leadership expected to be held on Friday.
Some US officials told CNN they hoped MBS and Biden would spend some time in private as part of the meeting, although the choreography will likely be by the Saudi hosts.
The White House confirmed Thursday evening that Saudi Arabia will open its airspace to all civil airlines, including flights to and from Israel. The decision, which was expected, is a sign of warming relations between the two countries.
“This decision is the result of the president’s continued and principled diplomacy with Saudi Arabia over several months, culminating in his visit today,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
The president had earlier on Thursday defended his decision to travel to Saudi Arabia and meet with Mohammed bin Salman, which drew bipartisan criticism back home. He said the purpose of the trip was to advance American interests.
“There are many issues at stake that I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum — a vacuum that China and/or Russia fills, against the interests of both Israel and the United States. Many other countries and countries are,” Biden said.
Biden said he would deliver a “direct message” to the Saudi leadership on Friday — “a message of peace and extraordinary opportunities that a more stable and integrated region can bring to the region and the world at large, frankly.”
While oil production is not expected to be the main topic of the meeting, US officials expect the topic to be brought up – there is hope that the kingdom will commit to increasing production in the weeks following the meeting. Biden said Thursday that his reason for going to Saudi Arabia is “much broader” than just oil and that he’s traveling there to advance American interests.
He indicated that he will meet with many leaders of the Middle East and attend the meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus three – Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
Biden said he has a chance to fix the “mistake” of “stepping away from our influence in the Middle East,” another reference to the Trump administration.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.