JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — US President Joe Biden said he brought up the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in his meeting Friday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, rejecting the idea that he was ignoring the kingdom’s human rights abuses as he tries to reset a critical diplomatic relationship.
“I said, very straightforwardly, for an American president to be silent on an issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am,” Biden said. “I’ll always stand up for our values.”
US intelligence believes that the crown prince likely approved the killing of Khashoggi, a US-based writer, four years ago.
Biden said Prince Mohammed claimed that he was “not personally responsible” for the death.
“I indicated I thought he was,” the US president said he replied.
“What happened to Khashoggi was outrageous… I just made it clear if anything occurs like that again they will get that response and much more,” Biden said.
It was the first encounter between the two leaders in a relationship that could reshape security partnerships in the Middle East and the flow of oil worldwide.
Biden also announced that US peacekeepers would leave the Red Sea island of Tiran by the end of the year, part of an agreement reached during what he called “a good series of meetings” in Jeddah.
Biden on Friday held a carefully choreographed meeting with the Saudi crown prince, the man he had once shunned for human rights abuses, as the two leaders sought to reset one of the world’s most important diplomatic relationships.
The encounter, 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 worldwide.
Biden’s three hours at the royal palace in Jeddah was seen as a diplomatic win for the crown prince, who has tried to rehabilitate his image, draw investments to the kingdom for his reform plans and bolster the kingdom’s security relationship with the US.
Biden seemed to approach it as a necessary if somewhat distasteful step to improve relations with the world’s top oil exporter at a time of rising gas prices and concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The meeting drew outrage from critics who believed Biden was abandoning his pledges on human rights, particularly when it came to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist who wrote for The Washington Post.
“The fist bump between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman was worse than a handshake — it was shameful,” said a statement from Fred Ryan, the Post’s publisher. “It projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.”
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, tweeted a screenshot imagining what he would have said in response to the meeting, reading “the blood of MBS’s next victim is on your hands.”