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Joe Biden: Saudi Crown Prince greets President with a fist bump

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A crucial meeting to mend one of the world’s most important diplomatic relations began with a bang on Friday as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomed US President Joe Biden to a royal palace.

The first encounter, captured by Saudi TV, took place as Biden got out of his presidential limo in Jeddah for a visit meant to reset their countries’ longstanding partnership.

There was little evidence of warmth between the leaders, and none of the slaps or smiles that Biden or the crown prince usually display when greeting other leaders.

Biden had long refused to speak to Prince Mohammed, the heir apparent to the throne currently held by his father, King Salman. And he harshly criticized the oil-rich kingdom for its human rights abuses, in particular the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist.

But those concerns have since been overshadowed by other challenges, including rising gas prices and Iranian aggression in the Middle East. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is seeking to strengthen its security relationship with the United States and seek investment to transform its economy into one less dependent on pumping oil.

The Saudis gave Biden a low-key welcome at Jeddah airport, without any ceremony that accompanied his layover this week in Israel.

Biden was greeted by Makkah Governor Prince Khalid bin Faisal and Saudi Ambassador to the United States Princess Reema bint Bandar, then walked on a lavender carpet that led to the limo that took him to the palace.

The president spoke 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 a video of Biden shaking hands with the king as the crown prince looked on.

Afterwards, Biden and Prince Mohammed held a larger meeting with several advisers. The two men were seated opposite each other, an arrangement that reinforced the perception that they are peers. It’s an image the Crown Prince, known by his initials MBS, has been quick to promote as he cements his path to the throne after sidelining, detaining and seizing the assets of royal rivals and reviews.

So far, his rise to power has ushered in a new era for the kingdom as it works to build a local military and armaments industry, wean itself off dependence on oil for its revenue and establish relations of security to defend against Iran.

Now the future of the region, including the possibility of closer ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, as well as the ebb and flow of global oil supplies, could hinge on the relationship between the 79-year-old US president and the 36-year-old former Saudi royal.

There had been much speculation about the choreography and substance of how Biden, who had vowed as a presidential candidate to treat Saudis as a ‘pariah’ for their human rights record man, would interact with Prince Mohammed.

Access for journalists was limited. The White House roving press corps was not present when Biden’s fist slammed into the crown prince, and reporters were only briefly allowed into their meeting. Almost none of their remarks could be heard. Biden didn’t respond when asked by reporters if he still considers Saudi Arabia an ‘outcast’, nor did Prince Mohammed respond to a shouted question whether he would apologize to Khashoggi’s family.

Last year, the Biden administration approved the release of a US intelligence finding that determined the crown prince likely approved of Khashoggi’s killing. The release of the report caused a rift in US-Saudi relations.

Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, Biden did not say whether he would raise the issue directly with Prince Mohammed, nor did he do so within earshot of reporters on Friday.

“My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear. And I’ve never been silent on human rights,” Biden said earlier this week. “The reason I’m going to Saudi Arabia, however, is much broader. It’s to promote American interests – to promote American interests in a way that I think gives us the opportunity to reaffirm what I think we made the mistake of walking away: our influence in the Middle East.”

Biden arrived in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on the third day of a four-day trip through the Middle East. He spent the first two days meeting with Israeli officials and flew to the West Bank on Friday to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and others before flying to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis took a step toward normalizing relations with Israel ahead of Biden’s visit, announcing early Friday that he was opening his airspace to “all air carriers”, signaling the end of his strict limits on Israeli flights flying over his country. territory.

Biden hailed the decision as “an important step toward building a more integrated and stable Middle East region,” adding that the decision “can help build momentum for Israel’s continued integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia”.

Biden will also participate in a gathering of leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – on Saturday before returning to Washington. Leaders of Middle Eastern neighbors Egypt, Iraq and Jordan are also present.

The Saudi visit is one of the trickiest Biden has faced internationally. Any kind of respectful greeting that Biden can manage, and that the Saudi crown prince can mirror, could help the two sides smooth relations.

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

Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, said with the visit to Saudi Arabia, Biden was backsliding on human rights.

“It’s a huge setback actually,” Cengiz told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. “It’s heartbreaking and disappointing. And Biden will lose his moral authority by putting oil and expediency above principles and values.”

Biden’s criticism of the Saudis as candidates has grown more muted in recent months as Russia’s war on Ukraine has deepened what was already a global oil and gas supply crisis. . High gasoline prices pushed inflation in the United States to its highest level in four decades.

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

“Biden and his team will come take a look at the US election and make things better for Democrats by reaching a deal on increasing oil production,” Hamad tweeted, saying “it doesn’t matter.” importance 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 looked forward to visiting Saudi Arabia “like I would look forward to a root canal operation.”

Miller pitted Biden against his predecessor, President Donald Trump, who visited Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip. That trip was highlighted by a mystifying photo op of the leaders gathered around a glowing orb and Trump briefly joining in a ceremonial sword dance.

With Biden and Prince Mohammed, “there won’t be a lot of sword dancing or smiling photo ops or warm hugs,” Miller said.


Knickmeyer reported from Sacramento, Calif., and Megerian from Washington. Associated Press writer Aya Batrawy contributed from Dubai.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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