The president of the United States, Joe Biden, held a meeting in Saudi Arabia this Friday with the country’s crown prince, Mohamed bin Salmán, who, despite being carefully prepared, has not been able to avoid the rain of criticism. Before the trip, for agreeing to meet with the same president whom he described as a “pariah” for his rejection of human rights, especially after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a contributing journalist for The Washington Post. And then, because of a fist bump that represents the complete opposite of his previous promises.
The gesture, although brief, has been received in the US with harsh criticism. During the 2020 election campaign, Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia’s leaders pay a “price” for the 2018 murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Shortly after becoming president, Biden declassified a report in which the CIA accused Bin Salmán of having approved the operation that resulted in the journalist’s death and dismemberment.
This Friday, the reaction was immediate on the part of the newspaper. “The fist bump between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman has been worse than if they had shaken hands,” said the editor of the post,Fred Ryan, it’s a statement. “It has been humiliating. He has projected a level of intimacy and comfort that gives MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.”
Following criticism, Biden has claimed that he discussed the murder of journalist Khashoggi with the crown prince, the Associated Press reports. “I have told him clearly that an American president who remains silent on human rights is not consistent with who we are or who I am,” Biden said. “I will always defend our values.” According to the US president, the Saudi prince replied that he “is not personally responsible” for the journalist’s death but replied “I do think you are.”
The meeting between Biden and the crown prince, a meeting held at the royal palace in Jeddah for more than three hours, had been presented by the White House as a necessary step to improve relations with one of the world’s leading oil exporters. At the end of the day, however, the visit has been received as a victory for Bin Salmán, who needed such a gesture to try to rehabilitate his international image.
“My opinion on Khashoggi has been absolutely clear,” Biden said this week before starting the trip. “The reason I am traveling to Saudi Arabia, however, is much broader: It is about promoting US interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity to reassert what I think we should never have abandoned: our influence in the Middle East. Medium”.
In anticipation of the impact that the greeting would have, the White House had announced at the beginning of the Middle East tour that Biden, 79, would not shake hands with other leaders as a precaution against COVID-19, although later in Israel he ended up giving hugs to some of the leaders. Biden, who has also held a meeting with King Salmán, did not bump his fist this time with him, but, according to the images distributed by the Saudi royal house, he did shake his hand to greet him.