Biden Succumbs to Lobbyists in Move Toward Saudi Arms and Defense Agreements

President Biden’s formally announced plan to visit Saudi Arabia next month is a dramatic reversal of earlier promises to treat the Arab nation as a “pariah” in light of its repeated human rights violations. Biden is being called upon to hold the Saudi government responsible for the brutal killing and dismemberment American residents. Washington PostJamal Khashoggi is a columnist. But as he faces domestic anger over rising fuel prices, Biden seems to have declining leverage with one of the most oil-rich countries in the world and the top weapons client for the U.S. “The Biden administration has succumbed to the pressures of defense industries and the foreign government lobbyists to continue what are very profitable arms sales,” says Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, founded by Khashoggi.


This is a hurry transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The White House has officially announced that President Biden will visit Saudi Arabia and Israel next month. Biden will meet with both the Saudi King Salman (and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman). Biden, as a candidate, pledged to make Saudi Arabia pariah after the brutal assassination. Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi, columnist

JOE BIDEN: I would like to make it clear that we weren’t going to sell them more weapons. We were going to make them pay for it and make them the pariahs they are.

AMY GOODMAN: Biden, however, has taken a new stance as global gas prices have risen in recent months. His talks in Saudi Arabia are expected focus on oil production, war in Yemen, and other regional issues.

For more, we’re joined by Sarah Leah Whitson, lawyer for Khashoggi’s fiancée in a lawsuit against the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi’s murder, his dismemberment in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. She’s executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, or DAWNJamal Khashoggi founded.

Welcome back Democracy Now! We only have five minutes, Sarah Leah, but I’m wondering if you can respond to this just complete reversal of President Biden, from saying they’re pariahs to going to meet with them.

SARAH LEAH WHITSON: It’s a very dramatic capitulation to a very clear red line that President Biden had announced, perhaps off the cuff, but I think it is in response to a massive amount of pressure from the defense industry lobbies, from the Israeli, Saudi and Emirati lobbies, and the confluence of the war in Ukraine that has driven up oil prices, all of which have resulted in pressuring President Biden to do what he clearly didn’t want to do, which is go and kiss the ring of Mohammed bin Salman.

It is also worth noting that the idea of Biden meeting with Mohammed bin Salman may be a red herring. The real concession, which the Saudis and Emiratis are demanding to continue to purchase American arms, is a security and defense agreement that will commit U.S. soldiers to defending the Emirati and Saudi monarchies. That is what President Biden intends to deliver in Riyadh. This is why we should all be concerned.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about the massive weapons sales that the Biden administration continues to make to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates?

SARAH LEAH WHITSON: I mean, the proof is in the pudding. Despite President Biden’s promise to end weapon sales to Saudi Arabia (which you just heard), it was obvious from the beginning of his administration that this was not going down. Saudi Arabia is America’s largest weapons client. It is the largest weapon client in the world. It is followed by the UAE. Everyone knows the right thing, and that is to stop weapon sales to these heinous regimes, considering their atrocious war crime for six years in Yemen.

The pressures of the defense industry lobbyists and foreign government lobbyists forced the Biden administration to continue very profitable arms sales to the defense industry. Certainly, this doesn’t suit or serve the interests of the American people, but it very much serves the interests of major donors to the Democratic Party, major donors to the Biden administration, and that is the lobbyists that represent the defense industries and the foreign governments.

AMY GOODMAN: I was watching John Kirby, the spokesperson for the Pentagon, questioned about whether he’ll raise human rights, and he said, “Well, he does do that kind of thing. We kind of expect he will.” But what about — for example, is there pressure being brought to end your lawsuit on behalf of Khashoggi’s fiancée for the dismemberment of Khashoggi, the murder of Khashoggi? And we’re not only talking about one man here; also, the dismemberment of Yemen, the atrocity that is one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world, with U.S. weapons-backed Saudi Arabia bombing of Yemen.

SARAH LEAH WHITSON: Let’s be clear: the lawsuit is a lawsuit. DAWN has brought in its own capacity, and Hatice Cengiz, Jamal’s widow, is our co-plaintiff. We are joining this lawsuit to prosecute Jamal Khashoggi for his murder and torture. We know that Mohammed bin Salman demanded that the Biden administration intervene in our lawsuit to grant him immunity. That’s not going happen. It hasn’t happened so far. But, if he rises to be king, he’ll have sovereign immunity. The lawsuit’s other defendants will not be dismissed. We are still waiting for the verdict on the motion to dismiss our lawsuit. We will prevail. We hope that we will prevail.

Today, we will commemorate the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Mohammed bin Salman, by unveiling a permanent street sign in front the Saudi Embassy at noon. This will remind them and the entire world who was responsible for this horrible crime.

Very happy to see a truce in Yemen, but, let’s face it, this is a face-saving exit for the Saudi government from their catastrophic, futile war that has caused nothing but destruction and brought zero gain, even for the Saudis’ nefarious plot to contain and control Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: The Saudi Arabian Embassy will therefore be located on Jamal Khashoggi Way.

SARAH LEAH WHITSON: That’s right. The new address of the Saudi Embassy — and we hope Google will adjust its maps to reflect that — is officially now Jamal Khashoggi Way. That is designated by the Washington, D.C., City Council, which unanimously approved —

AMY GOODMAN: Three seconds.

SARAH LEAH WHITSON: — our efforts to redesignate the street. And we hope you all watch the unveiling of the street sign today at 1 p.m. on DAWN’s Facebook page.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Leah Whitson: We are grateful for your support. DAWN. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.