Biden aides hint at Covid ‘no handshakes’ policy as Saudi meeting approaches

JERUSALEM. It’s a handshake that President Biden would very much like to avoid if he could. So will he use Covid-19 as a reason to stay at arm’s length from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he lands in Saudi Arabia later this week?

White House officials flew Mr Biden to Jerusalem on Wednesday for the first stop of their 4 day trip to the middle east hinted that the President may refrain from shaking hands altogether during his trip in response to the introduction of a highly contagious Omicron subvariant known as BA.5.

“We are now in the pandemic phase where we are looking to reduce contact,” Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, told reporters aboard Air Force One when asked if Mr. travel time. “But I can’t talk about every moment, every interaction and every movement. It’s just a general principle that we apply.”

But even though he promised as a candidate to punish Saudi Arabia by making it “outcast“Mr. Biden decided it was worth the political expense to travel there to counter Chinese influence, push for more oil production, and encourage closer ties with Israel.

He is due to fly to Jeddah on Friday and meet with King Salman and Prince Mohammed in the evening, as well as with other ministers. On Saturday, he will meet with other Arab leaders gathered in Jeddah, both individually and collectively. But there is no more dangerous meeting than meeting with Prince Mohammed.

mr. Biden has been shaking hands many times in recent days, so not shaking hands would be a drastic change in practice. But the president’s coronavirus response team warned the Americans on Tuesday that they should be doing more to protect themselves from the virus as a new wave of infections, re-infections and hospitalizations spreads across the United States.