JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia ( Associated Press) – President Joe Biden said he raised the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at the start of his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday.
See Biden’s comment in the player above.
Biden said, “I said very directly that a US president’s silence on a human rights issue is inconsistent with who we are and who I am.” “I will always stand up for my values.”
US intelligence believes the Crown Prince probably sanctioned the killing of US-based author Khashoggi four years ago. His assassination has dominated Biden’s efforts to re-establish ties with Saudi Arabia.
Biden also announced that US peacekeepers would leave the Red Sea island of Tiran by the end of the year, as part of what he called “a good series of meetings” in Jeddah.
Biden held a carefully choreographed meeting on Friday with Crown Prince Mohammed, the man he once abandoned for human rights abuses, as the two leaders sought to reset one of the world’s most important diplomatic ties .
The encounter, which began with a fist bump as Joe Biden exited his presidential limousine, could reshape the security partnership in the Middle East and the flow of oil around the world.
Biden’s three hours at the royal palace in Jeddah was seen as a diplomatic victory for the crown prince, who sought to restore his image, attract investment to the state for his reform plans and strengthen the state’s security ties with the US. have tried to do.
Biden saw it as a necessary move to improve relations with the world’s top oil exporter at a time of rising gas prices and concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The meeting sparked outrage from critics who believed Biden was abandoning his promises on human rights, especially when it came to the murder of Khashoggi, a US journalist who wrote for The Washington Post.
“The handshake between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman was worse than it was – it was shameful,” said a statement from the Post’s publisher, Fred Ryan. “It anticipated a level of intimacy and comfort that provided MBS with the improbable redemption he was desperately looking for.”
Khashoggi was killed by Saudi government agents four years ago, and a US intelligence report said the crown prince had approved the operation.
The United States downplayed expectations of any immediate increase in Saudi oil production, which could help ease high gas prices that are politically damaging to Biden back home. But the White House said it anticipates “further steps” in the coming weeks that will “help stabilize markets.”
The current OPEC+ agreement expires in September, potentially opening the door to higher output thereafter.
Rising gas prices, compounded by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, are one of the factors that prompted Biden to re-evaluate his approach to Saudi Arabia.
The US president has long refused to speak to Prince Mohammed, who is currently the heir to the throne held by his father, King Salman. But those concerns have been eclipsed by other challenges, including Iranian aggression in the Middle East and a faltering attempt to use diplomacy to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia wants to strengthen its security ties with the United States and make safe investments to transform its economy into a less reliant on oil pumping.
The Saudis held a polite welcome for Biden at the airport in Jeddah, none of which coincided with his first stop in Israel this week.
Biden was greeted by the governor of Mecca, Prince Khalid bin Faisal, and Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, Princess Reema bint Bandar, and then walked down a lavender carpet that limousines carried him to the palace.
The President sat down with 86-year-old King Salman, who has been suffering from ill health including two hospitalizations this year. Journalists were not allowed into the room, but the Saudis released a video of Biden shaking hands with the king while the crown prince watched.
Later, Biden and Prince Mohammed held extensive meetings with several advisers. The two men sat facing each other, an arrangement that fueled the notion that they were equal. It’s an image the Crown Prince, known by his initials MBS, is eager to fortify his way to the throne after sidestepping, detaining and confiscating the assets of royal rivals and critics.
There was much speculation about the choreography and how Biden, who as a presidential candidate, had vowed to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” for its human rights record, sided with Prince Mohammed. Learn how to negotiate.
Journalists had limited access. When Biden bumped into the crown prince, the White House traveling press corps was not present, and reporters were only allowed a short time in their meeting. Almost none of his comments could be heard. Biden did not respond when asked by reporters whether he still considered Saudi Arabia an untouchable, nor did Prince Mohammed respond to a shouted question about whether he would apologize to Khashoggi’s family.
It is unclear whether Biden raised the issue of Khashoggi’s killing directly with Prince Mohammed, and he had not publicly committed to doing so before arriving in Saudi Arabia.
“My thoughts on Khashoggi are absolutely, positively clear. And I’ve never been silent about talking about human rights,” Biden said earlier this week. “However, the reason I’m going to Saudi Arabia is much broader. It’s to promote American interests – to promote American interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity that I think We’ve Made the Mistake of Moving Away: Our Influence in the Middle East.
On Saturday, he will attend a gathering of leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – before returning to Washington. The leaders of Middle East neighbors Egypt, Iraq and Jordan are also to participate, and Biden’s national security adviser said Biden would make a “major statement” on his vision for the Middle East.
Saudi travel is one of the most delicate that Biden has faced on the international stage. Any success in a pleasing relationship could pay diplomatic dividends as the president seeks to ensure stability in the region.
But it could also open Biden, who was already faltering in elections at home, to deep criticism that he is backing down on his promises to put human rights at the center of foreign policy.
“If we ever needed a visual reminder of the continued grip of oil-rich autocrats over American foreign policy in the Middle East, we got it today,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California tweeted. “A fist bump is worth a thousand words.”
Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, said that, with the visit to Saudi Arabia, Biden was holding back on human rights.
“It’s really a huge endorsement,” Cengiz told the Associated Press in an interview on Thursday. “It’s heartbreaking and depressing. And by putting oil and expediency on principles and values, Biden will lose his moral authority.”
Saudi political analyst Turki Al Hamad said he was not optimistic about the prospects of Biden’s visit.
“Biden and his team will set their eyes on the US election, and improve the Democrats’ position with an agreement on increasing oil production,” Hamad tweeted, “no matter what the Saudi leadership.”
Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former US State Department official, said Biden was looking forward to visiting Saudi Arabia “as I look forward to a root canal operation.”
Miller compared Biden with his predecessor, Donald Trump, who visited Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip. That visit was highlighted by leaders gathered around a glowing orb and Trump briefly engaged in a ceremonial sword dance.
With Biden and Prince Mohammed, “there aren’t a lot of sword dancing or smiling photo ops or warm hugs,” Miller said.