Sunday, April 2, 2023

VIDEO: Biden says he raised Khashoggi murder with Saudi crown prince

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia ( Associated Press) — President Joe Biden said he brought up the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at the start of his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday.

Watch Biden’s comments in the player above.

“I said, very bluntly, for an American president to be silent on a human rights issue is inconsistent with who we are and who I am,” Biden said. “I will always defend our values.”

US intelligence believes the crown prince likely approved of the killing of Khashoggi, an American writer, four years ago. His assassination has loomed over Biden’s efforts to restore relations with Saudi Arabia.

READ MORE: Turkish Court Moves Trial of 26 Saudis Suspected in Khashoggi’s Gruesome Murder to 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 a deal reached during what he called “a good series of meetings” in Jeddah.

Biden held a carefully choreographed meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed, the man he once shunned for human rights abuses, on Friday as the two leaders sought to restore one of the world’s most important diplomatic relations.

The meeting, which began with a fist bump as Biden stepped out of his presidential limousine, could reshape security partnerships in the Middle East and the flow of oil around the world.

Saudi Arabia'S Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Gives A Fist Bump To Us President Joe Biden Upon His Arrival At Al Salman Palace In Jeddah.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gives a fist bump to US President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Al Salman Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on July 15, 2022. Bandar Algaloud/ Courtesy of the Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Handout via REUTERS

Biden’s three hours at the royal palace in Jeddah were seen as a diplomatic victory for the crown prince, who has sought to rehabilitate his image, attract investment to the kingdom for his reform plans and bolster the kingdom’s security relationship with the US. USA

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

The meeting sparked outrage from critics who believed Biden was abandoning his promises on human rights, particularly in regards to the killing of Khashoggi, a US-based journalist writing for The Washington Post.

“The fist bump between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman was worse than a handshake, it was disgraceful,” Fred Ryan, the Post’s publisher, said in a statement. “He projected a level of intimacy and comfort that provides MBS with the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.”

Khashoggi was killed by Saudi government agents four years ago, and a US intelligence report said the crown prince likely approved of the operation.

The United States downplayed expectations of immediate increases in Saudi oil production, which could help alleviate politically damaging high gasoline prices for Biden at home. But the White House said it anticipated “further steps” in the coming weeks that “will help stabilize markets considerably.”

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

The rise in gasoline prices, which was exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is one of the factors that prompted Biden to reassess his approach to Saudi Arabia.

The US president had long refused to talk to Prince Mohammed, the heir presumptive to the throne currently held by his father, King Salman. But those concerns have been overshadowed by other challenges, including Iranian aggression in the Middle East 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 dependent on pumping oil.

The Saudis gave Biden a modest welcome at Jeddah airport, without the ceremony that accompanied his earlier stop this week in Israel.

CLOCK: Is Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia the best thing for America?

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 across a lavender carpet to the limousine that delivered him. led to the palace.
The president sat down with King Salman, the 86-year-old monarch who has suffered 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 as the crown prince looked on.

Biden and Prince Mohammed later held a larger meeting with various advisers. The two men sat across from each other, an arrangement that polished the perception that they are counterparts. It’s an image 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 has been much speculation about the choreography and substance of how Biden, who as a presidential candidate had vowed to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” for its human rights record, would interact with Prince Mohammed.

Access for journalists was limited. The roving White House press corps was not present when Biden punched the crown prince, with reporters only briefly allowed inside their meeting. Hardly any of his comments could be heard. Biden did not respond when asked by reporters if he still considered Saudi Arabia a pariah, 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 murder directly with Prince Mohammed, and he did not publicly commit to doing so before arriving in Saudi Arabia.

“My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely positively clear. And I have never been silent when talking about human rights,” Biden said earlier this week. “However, the reason I am going to Saudi Arabia is much broader. It’s to advance US interests, advance US interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity to reassert what I think we made a mistake in walking away from: our influence in the Middle East.”

On Saturday he will participate in a meeting of leaders of 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 will also attend, and Biden’s national security adviser said Biden would make an “important statement” on his vision for the Middle East.

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The visit to Saudi Arabia is one of the most sensitive that Biden has faced on the international stage. Any success in relaxing relations could pay diplomatic dividends as the president seeks to ensure stability in the region.

But it could also open up Biden, already reeling in the polls at home, to deeper criticism that he is backtracking on promises to put human rights at the center of foreign policy.

“If ever we needed a visual reminder of the ongoing control oil-rich autocrats have over US foreign policy in the Middle East, we have it today,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, tweeted. “A fist bump is worth a thousand words.”
Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, said that by visiting Saudi Arabia, Biden was backing down on human rights.

“It’s actually a very big setback,” Cengiz told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. “It’s heartbreaking and disappointing. And Biden will lose the moral high ground from him by putting oil and expediency before principles and values.”

Saudi political analyst Turki al Hamad said he was not optimistic about the prospects of Biden’s trip.

“Biden and his team will come and set their sights on the US election and make things better for the Democrats by making a deal to increase oil production,” Hamad tweeted, saying “it doesn’t matter to 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 expected to visit Saudi Arabia “as if I expected a root canal operation.”

Miller compared Biden to his predecessor, Donald Trump, who visited Saudi Arabia on his first trip abroad. That visit was highlighted by leaders gathering around a glowing orb and Trump briefly joining in a ceremonial sword dance.

With Biden and Prince Mohammed, “there won’t be many sword dances, smiley pictures or warm hugs,” Miller said.

Batrawy reported from Dubai, Knickmeyer from Sacramento, California, and Megerian from Washington.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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