By Steve Holland and Jarrett Renshaw
ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will seek to reduce direct contact, such as shaking hands, during his visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia this week due to COVID-19 risks, they said. White House officials on Wednesday.
The apparent change in policy comes as the White House faced questions about whether Biden would be photographed shaking hands or meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Biden left for Israel Tuesday night after spending part of the afternoon and evening shaking hands on the South Lawn of the White House during a congressional picnic.
Biden, who called the Saudi government a “pariah” for its role in the 2018 assassination of Washington Post journalist and political opponent Jamal Khashoggi, will begrudgingly meet with the crown prince, who US intelligence believes is behind the assassination. during his stopover in Saudi Arabia. .
“We’re in a phase of the pandemic now where we’re looking to reduce contact and increase masking … to minimize the spread,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One. .
“We are trying to minimize contact as much as possible,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.
The White House on Tuesday urged Americans over the age of 50 to get booster vaccinations against COVID-19 as the rapidly spreading Omicron BA.5 subvariant takes hold in the United States and said doing so now would not prevent another vaccine. this autumn.
Biden will participate in a bilateral meeting with the king and crown prince on Friday, but in recent weeks Biden has sought to emphasize meeting with a broader set of Gulf leaders.
Jean-Pierre said a news conference was not scheduled during Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia.
(Reporting by Steve Holland at Air Force One, Jarrett Renshaw at Saudi Arabai, and Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing by William Maclean)