Several officials told NBC News that President Joe Biden's planned visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel later this month have been postponed until July.
Sources said the White House is planning a trip to the Middle East next month.
A senior administration official said that they were working on a trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia for a GCC 3 summit. We are working to confirm dates. We will announce when we have something to announce. A foreign diplomat and two U.S. officials said the Saudi stop will no longer take place in late June. Two U.S. officials said the trip to Israel was also being pushed back. Both visits were expected to be tacked on to Biden's previously scheduled trip to Germany and Spain this month.
The reason for the delay wasn't immediately clear. The foreign diplomat and two officials said they learned of the postponed travel plans on Friday. The U.S. officials said that the dates could be changed again and that they remained in flux.
The White House didn't say anything about the trip itinerary. The Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington didn't respond to inquiries late Friday.
Biden's plans to visit Saudi Arabia came under scrutiny due to the country's human rights record and the president's own comments about the oil-rich country. Biden promised to treat himself as a pariah after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. In 2018 the CIA concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, had ordered Khashoggi s killing. The crown prince denied any involvement in his death.
A group of relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks wrote to Biden this week saying that if he travels to the kingdom, he must raise issues of accountability over alleged ties between some of the 9-11 hijackers and Saudi officials.
Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. economic and military ally, has traditionally been one of the first foreign stops a president makes in the Middle East. The Biden administration has found it hard to avoid cooperating with Saudi Arabia, given its major role in many of the top foreign policy issues facing the Biden administration, including Israel-Palestinian tensions and Iran nuclear deal.
Biden wants to drive down the price of oil and gas as he faces ongoing pressure to do more to lower fuel prices heading into the midterm elections.
Five sources with knowledge of the matter said that Biden was expected to visit Saudi Arabia and Israel this month.
The White House hasn't publicly confirmed those travel plans. Sources told NBC News that the Biden administration had told other countries that the visits were happening in late June, and that the White House and State Department were preparing for the visits.
Biden, asked on Friday morning by a reporter about reports of a trip to Saudi Arabia, said a stop was possible but I wasn't sure if I'm going. I want to work with how we can bring more stability and peace to the Middle East. If I did go, there is a possibility that I would meet with both the Israelis and some Arab countries, including, I expect, Saudi Arabia, which would be included in that, Biden said.