A photo made available by the Saudi Royal Court shows Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R), crown prince and deputy prime minister of Saudi Arabia meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Friday. Photo by Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Court/EPA-EFE
July 15 (BP) — U.S. President Joe Biden greeted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump Friday during his first meeting with the de facto leader since calling Saudi Arabia a “pariah state.”
Biden traveled from Israel to Saudi Arabia after a meeting earlier in the day with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
Biden attended a formal meeting with King Salman at Al Salam Royal Palace in Jeddah before participating in a working session with Mohammed and other ministers of the government.
Biden has been criticized for making Saudi Arabia part of his trip to the Middle East, because the crown prince is believed by Western intelligence to be directly responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018.
Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi writer and contributor for The Washington Post, was often critical of Saudi royal leadership. He was killed — and intelligence agencies believe he was dismembered — after he visited a Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork for his planned marriage. His remains have never been found.
While running for president in 2020, Biden said that he would treat Saudi leaders — especially Mohammed — as “pariahs.”
During his time in Israel on Thursday, Biden defended his decision to go to Saudi Arabia, emphasizing that failing to do so would be counterproductive and leave a leadership “vacuum” that might be filled by Russia and China.
“My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear and I have never been quiet about talking about human rights,” he said. “The reason I’m going to Saudi Arabia is to promote U.S. interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity to reassert our influence in the Middle East.”
During Friday’s working session, the leaders were expected to discuss oil production, human rights and the civil war in Yemen.
Biden on Saturday will participate in a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council with leaders from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt before he returns to the United States.
Biden also announced before leaving Israel on Friday that Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow flights from Israel. He said he hopes the decision will be a step toward better relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
“I will be the first president of the United States to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,” Biden said earlier Friday. “Saudi Arabia’s decision can help build momentum toward Israel’s further integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia. I will do all that I can, through direct diplomacy and leader-to-leader engagement, to keep advancing this groundbreaking process.”