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National Economic Council Director Brian Deese said it makes sense for President Joe Biden to travel to Saudi Arabia despite that nation's much-criticized human rights record.
Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Biden's economic czar said that next month's trip is all about advancing American interests.
"What's behind this is a very simple proposition, which is when it is U.S. interest for the president to engage with a foreign leader, he will do so," he told host Shannon Bream.
Deese was responding to suggestions by Bream that Biden might look desperate traveling to Saudi Arabia — a nation he has previously condemned for its human rights record, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — at a time of increasing energy prices. Critics on both the left and right have said it is wrong for Biden to seem to give the Saudi royal family his stamp of approval by visiting there.
"We have significant interests, national security interests, in the region, as well as economic interests as well. He will vigorously represent American interests, while also vigorously representing American values," Deese said of Biden's July 13-16 trip, which will also include a trip to Israel and the adjacent West Bank.
Deese also spoke at length of various steps the administration is taking in connection with oil companies to help lower energy prices — while still attempting to make it possible to address long-term clean energy and climate goals.
"The reality is," Deese said, "we are a net exporter of oil, but more important than that for the immediate term is what we can do to increase supply. As you said, supply came down precipitously during Covid; we want to see that come back and come back online. In the near term, the companies have a very powerful market incentive. Prices are high, and their profit and profit margins are high, and what we are encouraging is that they take those and put those profits to work to increase production."
He added of the administration: "If there are practical things we can do, we're willing to listen and willing to be open."