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Biden to visit Mideast from July 13

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WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden will make history next month with a direct flight between Israel and Saudi Arabia where he will meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The White House ended weeks of speculation on Tuesday, announcing that Biden will travel to Israel, the Palestinian West Bank and Saudi Arabia from July 13-16.

This will be Biden's first trip to the Middle East as president and in addition to meetings with individual leaders in all three places, he will attend a regional Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia.

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre emphasised that "this visit to the Middle East region culminates months of diplomacy." Biden will engage with nearly a dozen leaders during the brief yet intense journey, demonstrating "the return of American leadership'', a senior US official told reporters.

The tour starts with meeting Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Israel, a country Biden first visited nearly 50 years ago as a young senator.

There will be emphasis on the lavish US support for Israel's armed forces, including the Iron Dome anti-missile defence system.

Biden will meet Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, likely in Bethlehem, the US official said.

Biden will stress "his lifelong commitment to a two state solution" for Palestinians and Israelis and restore US ties with Palestinians that were "nearly severed" under his predecessor Donald Trump.

The part of the trip that will make history — and generate the most chatter — comes at the end.

Biden's flight from Israel to Jeddah will be the first by a US president from Israel to an Arab state that does not recognise the country. In 2017, Trump made the journey in reverse. — AFP

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