hurricanes later this year could damage Gulf Coast refineries and pipelines, choking off supplies.

For now, though, the steady drop in the cost of fuel offers Americans a reprieve.

“If gasoline prices stay at or near the levels they have reached, that would mean much more cushion for households,” Ms. Bovino said.

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Al Qaeda’s Zawahiri survived harsh mountains, killed in posh Kabul locality

A photo of Al Qaeda’s new leader, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, is seen in this still image taken from a video released on September 12, 2011. SITE Monitoring Service/Handout via REUTERS TV/

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Aug 2 (Reuters) – Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, survived years in Afghanistan’s rugged mountains but his last months were spent in an upscale Kabul neighbourhood where top officials from the Taliban also live.

U.S. officials said Hellfire missiles from a U.S. drone killed the 71-year-old when he came out on the balcony of a safe house in Kabul on Sunday morning. U.S. President Joe Biden said no civilians were killed. read more

The Taliban confirmed an air strike on a residential house in the Sherpoor area of Kabul but said there were no casualties.

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Zawahiri moved to a “very safe place” in Kabul a few months after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August last year, a senior leader of the radical group told Reuters on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the drone strike and called it a violation of “international principles”. Two Taliban spokesmen did not respond to Reuters request seeking details about Zawahiri’s death.

Unverified pictures on social media of what was described as the target of the attack showed shattered windows of a pink building, its fences topped with rolls of barbed wires. The house appeared two to three stories tall and ringed by trees.

Sherpoor is a quiet, leafy part of Kabul with large houses, where former Afghan general and ethnic Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum had lived, among other local dignitaries. Some houses have swimming pools in their attached gardens.

U.S. and NATO embassies are within a few km (miles) of the area.

A woman who lives in the neighbourhood and spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said she and her family of nine moved to the safe-room of their house when she heard an explosion at the weekend. When she later went to the rooftop, she saw no commotion or chaos and assumed it was some rocket or bomb attack – which are not uncommon in Kabul.

The senior Taliban leader said Zawahiri spent most of his time in the mountains of Helmand province’s Musa Qala district after the Taliban government was overthrown in 2001 when the United States sent troops to the country.

He said Zawahiri kept a low profile there but went in and out of Pakistan’s border regions several times.

Pakistan’s foreign office did not respond to questions about Zawahiri’s reported movements in and out of Pakistan.

In January, 2006, CIA-operated Predator drones fired missiles at a house in Damadola, a village in the Pakistani tribal region of Bajaur, in the belief that Zawahiri was visiting. He was not but at least 18 villagers were killed.

TOP SECURITY

Other Taliban sources said the group gave the “highest-level security” to Zawahiri in Kabul but he was largely inactive operationally and needed the Taliban’s permission to move.

A Kabul police official described Sherpoor as Kabul’s “most safe and secure neighbourhood” and that the drone strike there was a “great shock”.

He said influential people from the former governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani had built spacious houses in Sherpoor. Senior Taliban leaders and their families now lived there, the official said.

Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon, helped coordinate the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States.

A U.S. official said U.S. officials identified that Zawahiri’s family – his wife, his daughter and her children – had relocated to a house in Kabul and subsequently identified Zawahiri at the same location.

Officials were not aware of him leaving it and on multiple times they identified him on its balcony – where he was ultimately struck. read more

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Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Rupam Jain in Mumbai and Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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Al Qaeda leader Zawahiri killed in U.S. drone strike in downtown Kabul

  • Zawahiri tracked to safe house in Kabul
  • Hit by Hellfire missile while standing on balcony
  • ‘This terrorist leader is no more’ – Biden
  • Taliban ‘grossly violated’ Doha Agreement – Blinken

KABUL/WASHINGTON, Aug 2 (Reuters) – The United States killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri with a drone missile while he stood on a balcony at his home in Kabul, U.S. officials said, the biggest blow to the militants since Osama bin Laden was shot dead more than a decade ago.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government has not confirmed the death of Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon who had a $25 million bounty on his head and helped to coordinate the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.

U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Zawahiri was killed when he came out on the balcony of his safe house in the Afghan capital at 6:18 a.m. (0148 GMT) on Sunday and was hit by Hellfire missiles from a U.S. drone.

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“Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more,” U.S. President Joe Biden said on Monday.

Biden said he authorised the strike after months of planning and that no civilians or family members were killed.

“The world will be a safer place,” said Britain’s foreign minister Liz Truss.

Three spokespeople in the Taliban administration declined comment on Tuesday. The United States accused the Taliban of violating an agreement between them by sheltering Zawahiri.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid previously confirmed that a strike took place in Kabul on Sunday and called it a violation of “international principles”.

A spokesperson for the interior ministry said a house was hit by a rocket in Sherpoor, a leafy residential neighbourhood in the centre of Kabul. “There were no casualties as the house was empty,” Abdul Nafi Takor said.

Taliban authorities threw a security dragnet around the house and journalists were not allowed nearby.

A woman who lives in the neighbourhood and spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said she and her family of nine moved to the safe room of their house when she heard an explosion at the weekend.

When she later went to the rooftop, she saw no commotion or chaos and assumed it was a rocket or bomb attack – which is not uncommon in Kabul. read more

A senior Taliban official told Reuters that Zawahiri was previously in Helmand province and had moved to Kabul after the Taliban took over the country in August last year.

White House spokesman John Kirby told CNN the United States did not have DNA confirmation of Zawahiri’s death, citing “visual confirmation” along with other sources.

He warned al Qaeda and those harbouring the group.

“We are still going to stay vigilant, we’re still going to stay capable,” he told MSNBC.

The State Department warned U.S. citizens overseas that “there is a higher potential for anti-American violence” following the killing and that al Qaeda supporters “may seek to attack U.S. facilities, personnel or citizens.” read more

PROVIDING SANCTUARY

After U.S. Navy SEALS shot bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, Zawahiri succeeded him as leader.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Tuesday said it “stands by countering terrorism in accordance with international law and relevant UN resolutions.”

Kirby said no notifications were given in advance of the strike, when asked at a briefing on Tuesday if Pakistan had been told ahead of time.

Zawahiri had spent years as al Qaeda’s main organiser and strategist. But a lack of charisma and competition from rival militants Islamic State hobbled his ability to inspire devastating attacks on the West. read more

Reuters Graphics

There were rumours of Zawahiri’s death several times in recent years, and he was long reported to have been in poor health.

The drone attack is the first known U.S. strike inside Afghanistan since the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops and diplomats in 2021.

The killing may bolster the credibility of Washington’s assurances that it can still address threats from Afghanistan without a military presence in the country.

“I was critical of President Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan, but this strike shows we still have the capability and will to act there to protect our country,” said U.S. Representative Tom Malinowski, a Democrat. read more

Zawahiri’s death also raises questions about whether he received sanctuary from the Taliban.

A senior U.S. administration official said senior Taliban officials were aware of his presence in Kabul and said the United States expected the Taliban to abide by an agreement not to allow al Qaeda fighters to re-establish themselves there.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had “grossly violated” the Doha Agreement between the two sides by hosting and sheltering Zawahiri.

Until the U.S. announcement, Zawahiri had been rumoured to be elsewhere inside Afghanistan or in Pakistan’s tribal area.

A video released in April in which he praised an Indian Muslim woman for defying a ban on wearing an Islamic head scarf dispelled rumours that he had died.

WIFE, FAMILY IN SAME HOUSE

The senior U.S. official said the United States found out this year that Zawahiri’s wife, daughter and her children had relocated to a safe house in Kabul, then identified that Zawahiri was there as well.

He was identified multiple times on the balcony, where he was ultimately struck. He continued to produce videos from the house and some may be released after his death, the official said.

In the last few weeks, Biden convened officials to scrutinise the intelligence. He was updated throughout May and June and was briefed on July 1 on a proposed operation by intelligence leaders.

On July 25, Biden received an updated report and authorised the strike once an opportunity was available, the official said.

With other senior al Qaeda members, Zawahiri is believed to have plotted the Oct. 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole naval vessel in Yemen which killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured more than 30 others, the Rewards for Justice website said.

He was indicted in the United States for his role in the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and wounded more than 5,000 others.

Both bin Laden and Zawahiri eluded capture when U.S.-led forces toppled Afghanistan’s Taliban government in late 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks.

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Reporting by Idrees Ali and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper, Eric Beech, Jonathan Landay, Arshad Mohammed, Patricia Zengerle, Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Susan Heavey in Washington and Reuters staff in Kabul; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Krishna N. Das and Costas Pitas; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Nick Macfie, Grant McCool and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Idrees Ali

Thomson Reuters

National security correspondent focusing on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Reports on U.S. military activity and operations throughout the world and the impact that they have. Has reported from over two dozen countries to include Iraq, Afghanistan, and much of the Middle East, Asia and Europe. From Karachi, Pakistan.

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EXCLUSIVE EU found evidence employee phones compromised with spyware -letter

July 27 (Reuters) – The European Union found evidence that smartphones used by some of its staff were compromised by an Israeli company’s spy software, the bloc’s top justice official said in a letter seen by Reuters.

In a July 25 letter sent to European lawmaker Sophie in ‘t Veld, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said iPhone maker Apple had told him in 2021 that his iPhone had possibly been hacked using Pegasus, a tool developed and sold to government clients by Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group.

The warning from Apple triggered the inspection of Reynders’ personal and professional devices as well as other phones used by European Commission employees, the letter said.

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Though the investigation did not find conclusive proof that Reynders’ or EU staff phones were hacked, investigators discovered “indicators of compromise” – a term used by security researchers to describe that evidence exists showing a hack occurred.

Reynders’ letter did not provide further detail and he said “it is impossible to attribute these indicators to a specific perpetrator with full certainty.” It added that the investigation was still active.

Messages left with Reynders, the European Commission, and Reynders’ spokesman David Marechal were not immediately returned.

An NSO spokeswoman said the firm would willingly cooperate with an EU investigation.

“Our assistance is even more crucial, as there is no concrete proof so far that a breach occurred,” the spokeswoman said in a statement to Reuters. “Any illegal use by a customer targeting activists, journalists, etc., is considered a serious misuse.”

NSO Group is being sued by Apple Inc (AAPL.O) for violating its user terms and services agreement.

LAWMAKERS’ QUESTIONS

Reuters first reported in April that the European Union was investigating whether phones used by Reynders and other senior European officials had been hacked using software designed in Israel. Reynders and the European Commission declined to comment on the report at the time.

Reynders’ acknowledgement in the letter of hacking activity was made in response to inquiries from European lawmakers, who earlier this year formed a committee to investigate the use of surveillance software in Europe.

Last week the committee announced that its investigation found 14 EU member states had purchased NSO technology in the past.

Reynders’ letter – which was shared with Reuters by in ‘t Veld, the committee’s rapporteur – said officials in Hungary, Poland and Spain had been or were in the process of being questioned about their use of Pegasus.

In ‘t Veld said it was imperative to find out who targeted the EU Commission, suggesting it would be especially scandalous if it were found that an EU member state was responsible.

The European Commission also raised the issue with Israeli authorities, asking them to take steps to “prevent the misuse of their products in the EU,” the letter said.

A spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple’s alerts, sent late last year, told targeted users that a hacking tool, dubbed ForcedEntry, may have been used against their devices to download spyware. Apple said in a lawsuit that ForcedEntry had been the work of NSO Group. Reuters also previously reported that another, smaller Israeli firm named QuaDream had developed a nearly identical tool.

In November, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden gave NSO Group a designation that makes it harder for U.S. companies to do business with them, after determining that its phone-hacking technology had been used by foreign governments to “maliciously target” political dissidents around the world.

NSO, which has kept its client list confidential, has said that it sells its products only to “vetted and legitimate” government clients.

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Reporting by Raphael Satter and Christopher Bing in Washington; editing by Grant McCool

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Khamenei adviser says Tehran ‘capable of building nuclear bomb,’ Al Jazeera reports

Iranian flag is pictured in front of Iran’s Foreign Ministry building in Tehran November 23, 2009. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (IRAN POLITICS)/File Photo

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DUBAI, July 17 (Reuters) – Iran is technically capable of making a nuclear bomb but has not decided whether to build one, a senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Qatar’s al Jazeera TV on Sunday.

Kamal Kharrazi spoke a day after U.S. President Joe Biden ended his four-day trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, vowing to stop Iran from “acquiring a nuclear weapon.” read more

Kharrazi’s comments were a rare suggestion that Iran might have an interest in nuclear weapons, which it has long denied seeking.

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“In a few days we were able to enrich uranium up to 60% and we can easily produce 90% enriched uranium … Iran has the technical means to produce a nuclear bomb but there has been no decision by Iran to build one,” Kharrazi said.

Iran is already enriching to up to 60%, far above a cap of 3.67% under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Uranium enriched to 90% is suitable for a nuclear bomb.

In 2018, former U.S. President Donald Trump ditched the nuclear pact, under which Iran curbed its uranium enrichment work, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons, in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

In reaction to Washington’s withdrawal and its reimposition of harsh sanctions, Tehran started violating the pact’s nuclear restrictions.

Last year, Iran’s intelligence minister said Western pressure could push Tehran to seek nuclear weapons, the development of which Khamenei banned in a fatwa, or religious decree, in the early 2000s.

Iran says it is refining uranium only for civilian energy uses, and has said its breaches of the international deal are reversible if the United States lifts sanctions and rejoins the agreement.

The broad outline of a revived deal was essentially agreed in March after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and Biden’s administration in Vienna.

But talks then broke down over obstacles including Tehran’s demand that Washington should give guarantees that no U.S. president will abandon the deal, the same way Trump did.

Biden cannot promise this because the nuclear deal is a non-binding political understanding, not a legally-binding treaty.

“The United States has not provided guarantees on preserving the nuclear deal and this ruins the possibility of any agreement,” Kharrazi said.

Israel, which Iran does not recognise, has threatened to attack Iranian nuclear sites if diplomacy fails to contain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Kharrazi said Iran would never negotiate its balistic missile programme and regional policy, as demanded by the West and its allies in the Middle East. read more

“Any targeting of our security from neighbouring countries will be met with direct response to these countries and Israel.”

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Writing by Parisa Hafezi
Editing by David Goodman, Philippa Fletcher and Frank Jack Daniel

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On Khashoggi killing, Saudi prince says U.S. also made mistakes

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 16 (Reuters) – Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told President Joe Biden that Saudi Arabia had acted to prevent a repeat of mistakes like the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and that the United States had also made mistakes, including in Iraq, a Saudi minister said.

Biden said on Friday he told Prince Mohammed he held him responsible for the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, shortly after exchanging a fist bump with the kingdom’s de facto ruler. read more

“The President raised the issue… And the crown prince responded that this was a painful episode for Saudi Arabia and that it was a terrible mistake,” the kingdom’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said.

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Those who were accused were brought to trial and being punished with prison terms, he said.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing, which he denies.

Jubeir, talking to Reuters about Friday’s conversation between the two leaders, said the crown prince had made the case that trying to impose values by force on other countries could backfire.

“It has not worked when the U.S. tried to impose values on Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, it backfired. It does not work when people try to impose values by force on other countries,” Jubeir quoted the prince, known as MbS, as telling Biden.

“Countries have different values and those values should be respected,” MbS told Biden.

The exchange highlighted the tensions that have weighed on the relationship between Washington and Riyadh, its closest Arab ally, over several issues, including Khashoggi, high oil prices and the Yemen war.

Biden, who landed in Saudi Arabia on Friday in his first Middle East trip as president, held a summit on Saturday with six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq while downplaying his meeting with Prince Mohammed. That encounter has drawn criticism at home over human rights abuses.

Biden had promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the global stage over the 2018 murder of Khashoggi, but ultimately decided U.S. interests dictated improving relations with the world’s top oil exporter and Arab powerhouse.

After the summit, the leaders gathered for a group picture at which Biden kept his distance from Prince Mohammed.

“His Royal Highness mentioned to the President that mistakes like this happen in other countries and we saw a mistake like this being committed by the United States in Abu Ghraib (prison in Iraq),” Jubeir said.

Prince Mohammed also raised the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the West Bank.

Abu Akleh, who worked for the Al Jazeera network, was shot in the head on May 11 while reporting on an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

Palestinians believe she was killed deliberately by Israeli troops. Israel denies its soldiers shot her on purpose, and say she may have been killed either by errant army fire or a shot fired by a Palestinian gunman.

Jubeir rejected the accusation that Saudi Arabia has hundreds of political prisoners.

“That’s absolutely not correct. We have prisoners in Saudi Arabia who have committed crimes and who were put to trial by our courts and were found guilty,” he said.

“The notion that they would be described as political prisoners is ridiculous,” he added.

Washington has softened its stance on Saudi Arabia since Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, triggering one of the world’s worst energy supply crises.

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Additional reporting by Jarrett Reshow
Writing by Ghaida Ghantous
Editing by Mark Potter, Jane Merriman and Nick Macfie

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Biden fails to secure major security, oil commitments at Arab summit

  • Biden says U.S. will remain committed to allies
  • U.S. hoping to integrate Israel
  • Saudi crown prince pushes back on human rights issue

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 16 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden told Arab leaders on Saturday that the United States would remain an active partner in the Middle East, but he failed to secure commitments to a regional security axis that would include Israel or an immediate oil output rise.

“The United States is invested in building a positive future of the region, in partnership with all of you—and the United States is not going anywhere,” he said, according to a transcript of his speech.

Biden, who began his first trip to the Middle East as president with a visit to Israel, presented his vision and strategy for America’s engagement in the Middle East at an Arab summit in Jeddah.

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The summit communique was vague, however, and Saudi Arabia, Washington’s most important Arab ally, poured cold water on U.S. hopes the summit could help lay the groundwork for a regional security alliance – including Israel – to combat Iranian threats.

During a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Biden raised the highly sensitive issue of human rights, drawing countercriticism from the crown prince, also known as MbS.

“We believe there’s great value in including as many of the capabilities in this region as possible and certainly Israel has significant air and missile defence capabilities, as they need to. But we’re having these discussions bilaterally with these nations,” a senior administration official told reporters.

A plan to connect air defence systems could be a hard sell for Arab states that have no ties with Israel and balk at being part of an alliance seen as against Iran, which has a strong regional network of proxies including Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, said he was not aware of any discussions on a Gulf-Israeli defence alliance and that the kingdom was not involved in such talks.

He told reporters after the U.S.-Arab summit that Riyadh’s decision to open its airspace to all air carriers had nothing to do with establishing diplomatic ties with Israel and was not a precursor to further steps. read more

Biden has focused on the summit with six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, while downplaying the meeting with MbS which drew criticism in the United States over human rights concerns.

Biden had said he would make regional power Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the global stage over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, but ultimately decided U.S. interests dictated a recalibration, not a rupture, in relations with the world’s top oil exporter.

The crown prince told Biden that Saudi Arabia had acted to prevent a repeat of mistakes like the killing of Khashoggi and that the United States had also made mistakes, including in Iraq, a Saudi minister said.

FIST BUMP

Biden exchanged a fist bump with MbS on Friday but said he told him he held him responsible for Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“The President raised the issue … And the crown prince responded that this was a painful episode for Saudi Arabia and that it was a terrible mistake,” said Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir.

The accused were brought to trial were and being punished with prison terms, he said.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing, which he denies.

Jubeir, talking to Reuters about Friday’s conversation, said MbS had made the case that trying to impose values on other countries by force could backfire.

“It has not worked when the U.S. tried to impose values on Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, it backfired,” Jubeir quoted the crown prince as telling Biden. “Countries have different values and those values should be respected!”

The exchange highlighted tensions that have weighed on relations between Washington and Riyadh, its closest Arab ally, over issues including Khashoggi, oil prices and the Yemen war.

Biden needs the help of OPEC giant Saudi Arabia at a time of high crude prices and other problems related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Washington also wants to curb Iran’s sway in the region and China’s global influence.

Biden came to Saudi Arabia hoping to reach a deal on oil production to help drive down gasoline prices that are driving inflation above 40-year highs and threatening his approval ratings.

He leaves the region empty-handed but hoping the OPEC+ group, comprising Saudi Arabia, Russia and other producers, will boost production at a meeting on Aug. 3.

“I look forward to seeing what’s coming in the coming months,” Biden said.

FOOD SECURITY

A second senior administration official said Biden would announce that Washington has committed $1 billion in new near- and long-term food security assistance for the Middle East and North Africa, and that Gulf states would commit $3 billion over the next two years in projects that align with U.S. partnerships in global infrastructure and investment.

Gulf states, which have refused to side with the West against Russia over Ukraine, are seeking a concrete commitment from the United States to strategic ties that have been strained over perceived U.S. disengagement from the region.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have been frustrated by U.S. conditions on arms sales and at their exclusion from indirect U.S.-Iran talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear pact they see as flawed for not tackling concerns about Iran’s missile programme and behaviour.

Israel had encouraged Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia, hoping it would lead to warmer ties between it and Riyadh as part of a wider Arab rapprochement.

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Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan in Jeddah and John Irish in Paris Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Michael Georgy
Editing by Timothy Heritage and Helen Popper

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