(JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia) — Continuing his first visit to the Middle East as president, Joe Biden shared a fist bump Friday with Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ahead of their highly-anticipated meeting despite criticism around the Saudi Arabia stop.
Biden is meeting, separately, with the prince’s father, King Salman, the White House said.
The president stepped off Air Force One and onto a lavendar carpet in Jeddah shortly after 11 a.m. ET, descending the steps and greeted immediately by two individuals. He fist bumped the first greeter and shook hands with others. The president then walked towards the Beast, stopping to greet a few other officials lined up for his arrival, accompanied by national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Sullivan declined to say earlier this week if the public would see the president and the crown prince shake hands, and Biden has repeatedly declined to say whether he will bring up the 2018 murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi with him — despite immense pressure to snub the leader over alleged human rights atrocities, particularly since a U.S. intelligence report found Mohammad bin Salman directly approved the murder operation at a Saudi embassy in Turkey in 2018.
As a presidential candidate, Biden vowed to make oil-rich Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state over Khashoggi’s murder, but the rapprochement to U.S. and Saudi Arabia relations comes at a time when gas prices have skyrocketed as the West has attempted to boycott Russian oil, ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, and as Biden faces calls to balance security interests with human rights concerns.
Biden has defended his trip to the oil-rich nation, writing in an op-ed for The Washington Post published ahead of his visit that “my aim was to reorient — but not rupture — relations with a country that’s been a strategic partner for 80 years.”
“As president, it is my job to keep our country strong and secure,” he wrote. “We have to counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outcompete China, and work for greater stability in a consequential region of the world.”
But Sullivan on Friday ahead of the meeting downplayed any chance of an agreement from Saudi Arabia to increase oil production as a result of Biden’s meetings in the kingdom.
“I don’t think you should expect a particular announcement here bilaterally,” he told reporters on AF1. “We will discuss energy security at this meeting,” he said broadly, when asked if the public should expect an agreement.
Since taking office, Biden has spoken twice with King Salman, the crown prince’s father, who officially rules the country, but had dispatched Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to serve as his administration’s point of contact with the crown prince, in what was widely perceived as a snub to the powerful Saudi leader.
On Saturday, Biden plans to attend a summit of Arab leaders in Jeddah, a meeting that the crown prince will also attend, though it’s not yet clear how the two leaders will interact or engage there.
Biden noted in his op-ed he would be the first U.S. president to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, describing it as a “small symbol” of the deepening ties between Israel and the Arab world.
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