By Aziz El Yaakoubi
RIYADH (Reuters) – Two Saudi government delegations plan to visit the United States this month, officials said on Saturday, as Riyadh and Washington step up efforts to fix strained ties and lay the ground for an eventual visit by U.S. President Joe Biden.
The first delegation is expected to visit Washington on June 15 and will be led by Saudi Minister of Commerce Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi. The second, led by Investment Minister Khaled Al-Falih, is planned by the end of the month, two officials said.
The officials declined to be named as the plans had not been made public.
The delegations are expected to include dozens of government officials and Saudi company executives who will discuss agreements and deals in several sectors including transportation, logistics and renewable energy, they said.
The Saudi government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Biden publicly acknowledged on Friday that he may travel to Saudi Arabia soon, a trip that multiple sources say is expected and could include talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The visit would help mend relations with Saudi Arabia, which have come under strain because of rising energy prices, the Yemen war and the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
Biden’s announcement followed a decision on Thursday from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, to boost oil output, and an agreement between the Saudi-backed government and the Iran-aligned Houthis to extend a truce in Yemen. Biden and the White House praised Saudi Arabia for both decisions.
The U.S. stance is also changing as it worries about Gulf states’ deepening ties with China and Russia.
“Regardless if Biden’s visit takes place or not, both sides are working to restore ties on an institutional level and in different sectors,” said one of the officials.