Biden says he raised Khashoggi murder with Saudi Crown Prince

“I’ll always stand up for our values,” said the U.S. President

Updated - July 16, 2022 08:55 am IST

Published - July 16, 2022 01:59 am IST - JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and U.S. President Joe Biden meet at Al Salman Palace upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on July 15, 2022.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and U.S. President Joe Biden meet at Al Salman Palace upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on July 15, 2022. | Photo Credit: Reuters

President Joe Biden on Friday held a carefully choreographed meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man he had once shunned for human rights abuses, as the two leaders sought to reset one of the world’s most important diplomatic relationships.

Mr. Biden said he raised the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the beginning of his meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince on Friday.

“I said, very straightforwardly, for an American president to be silent on an issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am,” Mr. Biden said. “I’ll always stand up for our values.”

U.S. intelligence believes that the crown prince likely approved the killing of Khashoggi, a U.S.-based writer, four years ago. His murder has loomed over Mr. Biden’s efforts to reset relations with Saudi Arabia.

Also read:Khashoggi murder ‘happened under my watch’: Saudi crown prince

The encounter, which began with a fist bump as Mr. Biden stepped out of his presidential limousine, could reshape security partnerships in West Asia and the flow of oil worldwide.

Mr. Biden also announced that U.S. peacekeepers would leave the Red Sea island of Tiran by the end of the year, part of an agreement reached during what he called “a good series of meetings” in Jeddah.

Mr. Biden’s three hours at the royal palace in Jeddah was seen as a diplomatic win for the crown prince, who has tried to rehabilitate his image, draw investments to the kingdom for his reform plans and bolster the kingdom’s security relationship with the U.S.

Mr. Biden seemed to approach it as a necessary if somewhat distasteful step to improve relations with the the world’s top oil exporter at a time of rising gas prices and concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The United States played down expectations for any immediate increases in Saudi oil production, which could help alleviate high gas prices that are politically damaging to Mr. Biden back home. But the White House said it anticipated “further steps” over coming weeks that “will help stabilize markets considerably.”

The current OPEC+ agreement expires in September, opening the door to potentially higher production after that.

Rising gas prices, which were compounded by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, are one of the factors that prompted Mr. Biden to reassess his approach to Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. President had long refused to speak to Prince Mohammed, the presumed heir to the throne currently held by his father, King Salman. But those concerns have been eclipsed by other challenges, including Iranian aggression in West Asia and the faltering effort to use diplomacy to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia wants to strengthen its security relationship with the United States and secure investments to transform its economy into one less reliant on pumping oil.

Subdued welcome

The Saudis held a subdued welcome for Mr. Biden at the airport in Jeddah, with none of the ceremony that accompanied his earlier stop this week in Israel.

Mr. Biden was greeted by Mecca’s governor, Prince Khalid bin Faisal, and Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., Princess Reema bint Bandar, and then walked down a lavender carpet that led to the limousine that whisked him to the palace.

The President sat down with King Salman, the 86-year-old monarch who has suffered from poor health, including two hospitalizations this year. Journalists were not allowed into the room, but the Saudis released video of Mr. Biden shaking hands with the king while the crown prince looked on.

Afterward, Mr. Biden and Prince Mohammed held a broader meeting with several advisers. The two men sat across from each other, an arrangement that burnished the perception that they are counterparts. It is an image that the crown prince, known by his initials MBS, has been eager to foster as he solidifies his path to the throne after sidelining, detaining and seizing the assets of royal rivals and critics.

There had been considerable speculation about both the choreography and the substance of how Mr. Biden, who had vowed as a presidential candidate to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” for its human rights record, would go about interacting with Prince Mohammed.

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