Biden is trying to turn the page on US-Saudi relations, but the Khashoggi murder looms over the meetings

The meetings in Jeddah appear to be largely in line with the reset of the relationship between the United States and the kingdom after years of tension following Khashoggi’s death. But even more than political announcements and official debates, it is the personal interactions between the US president – who once promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” – and the kingdom’s de facto ruler that has drawn the most attention.

The president has come under fire for bumping into the crown prince’s fist during their first personal interaction by human rights groups and fellow Democrats, as well as the Washington Post publisher. Those images of Biden and the crown prince, also known as Mohammed bin Salman, were quickly promoted by the Saudi government, including on Saudi state television and Twitter.

Critics have argued that the knockdown vindicates bin Salman on the world stage just over a year after the US declassified an intelligence report concluding that the crown prince personally ordered Khashoggi’s murder. Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan said Biden’s fist was “shameful” because he “expected a level of intimacy and comfort that would provide Mohammed bin Salman with the gratuitous salvation he so desperately sought.”

It was also a startling gesture for a president who argued during the election campaign that he would make Saudi Arabia a “pariah because it” on the world stage and “made them pay the price”.

But the president said he was “frank and direct in discussing” Khashoggi with the crown prince on Friday, and he “have made my point very clearly.”

“For an American president to be silent on the issue of human rights does not agree with who we are and who I am. I will always stand up for our values,” Biden told reporters after his meetings with the Saudi leadership.

Biden said the crown prince again denied his involvement in the murder when he raised the case with him.

“I indicated I thought it was,” Biden said.

A horrific death hangs over Biden’s meetings

Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist based in the United States, was a vocal critic of the Saudi rulers and was killed in a consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Turkish officials said at the time that the journalist was beaten, tortured and dismembered.

Before their hours-long meeting, bin Salman on Friday brushed off reporters’ questions about whether he would apologize to Khashoggi’s family, and Biden did not respond to whether he still considered Saudi Arabia a “pariah.”

Biden attended an official meeting with Saudi King Salman, but – due to the king’s deteriorating health – the crown prince conducted the working session.

White House officials agreed that they would come under heavy criticism for the meeting, including from members of Biden’s party, but decided to move forward because they saw it as the more practical option, acknowledging that working with the Saudis was much easier than working without them. .

The president repeatedly defended His decision to travel to Saudi Arabia and meet Mohammed bin Salman, Preserving his administration wants to lead in the region and not create a vacuum for it Russia And China to fill.
Biden had stopped He committed Khashoggi’s murder directly with leaders in Saudi Arabia and said he “always” brought up human rights and that his views on the killing were “absolutely clear and positive”. US officials told CNN in the future From the trip that Biden was expected to take Khashoggi with Mohammed bin Salman.

There was much speculation before the trip about whether Biden would shake hands with the crown prince or be photographed with him. That speculation only grew when the White House said the president was looking to reduce contact with others amid the spread of a transmissible variant of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, and would offer fist bumps instead of a handshake.

A White House spokeswoman denied directives were issued to give Biden an excuse to avoid shaking hands with Mohammed bin Salman upon his arrival in Jeddah. Biden shook hands remarkably several times during his two days in Israel, adding to the scrutiny of his first greeting with Mohammed bin Salman.

For weeks, Biden and other White House officials tried to downplay his meeting with the crown prince. The White House did not officially acknowledge that Biden would meet directly with MBS until it published the president’s schedule the night before.

Biden’s Democratic colleagues have criticized the decision to meet with Mohammed bin Salman, as well as the bumps.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California said sharp words to Biden and tweeted: “If we ever needed a visual reminder of the continuing grip that oil-rich autocrats have over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, we’ve got it today. One fist bump is worth a thousand words.” .

Representative Tom Malinowski of New Jersey said in an interview in CNN’s “Newsroom” that although he believed Biden was “honest, unlike his predecessor” about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Khashoggi murder, “I am still not entirely comfortable with the image of this the meeting.”

The White House announces political agreements with the Saudis

While it is not expected to explicitly announce an increase in oil production once Biden leaves Jeddah, officials expect to announce this in the coming weeks, in addition to progress on the ceasefire in Yemen. Biden’s working visit with Mohammed bin Salman is seen as an opportunity to reset the relationship, and officials say, depending on how the meeting goes, Biden can start communicating with Mohammed bin Salman directly during the calls, which he has refused to do so far.

Overnight, Saudi Arabia confirmed an expected announcement of opening its airspace to Israel Airlines. Biden praised the “historic decision” that followed “months of consistent diplomacy,” noting that he would become the first US president to fly from Israel to Saudi Arabia.

The trip comes amid rising gas prices and rampant inflation in the US and around the world, in part due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, although the president and other officials dismissed Saudi Arabia’s rich oil supplies as a major catalyst for the trip. A White House official said the United States praised Saudi Arabia for its commitment to “supporting the balancing of the global oil market for sustainable economic growth,” citing the move as one that would push prices lower over the coming weeks.

“We welcomed the 50% increase in production levels above what was planned in July and August. These and other steps that we anticipate over the coming weeks will help stabilize markets significantly,” the official said.

The two countries will also sign a memorandum of cooperation on 5G and 6G technology, as part of the administration’s push to expand infrastructure around the world. It will “connect US and Saudi technology companies in developing and deploying 5G using open, virtual, cloud-based wireless access networks and developing 6G through similar technologies.”

The set of ads also promote the preservation and extension of the UN-brokered truce in the war in Yemen.

“President Biden welcomed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s strong commitment to the truce, particularly its leadership in conjunction with the Yemeni government in helping to resume direct commercial flights from Sana’a to Amman and Cairo for the first time in seven years and supporting Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council. This will help improve basic services and economic stability to ease the suffering of Yemen.” Yemenis.”

The United States and Saudi Arabia also signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Saudi Ministry of Health regarding public health. The two countries will collaborate on “health information systems, capacity building in health service delivery, disease surveillance, emerging infectious diseases, addressing health concerns of women and populations with special needs, and public policies directed at disease prevention and health promotion,” the official said.

Cooperation in the field of clean energy will also be enhanced, with Saudi investments to combat climate change, and an agreement on cyber security where the two countries will exchange information about threats and cooperate on best practices, as well as cooperation in space exploration, according to the official.

The official said that Biden also welcomed the efforts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to strengthen relations with Iraq, especially in the areas of assistance in strengthening the Iraqi electricity network by linking it with the Saudi and Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

This story was updated with additional developments on Friday.

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