Biden meets with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia

Credit…Mohammed Al-Sheikh / Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Upon entering the White House, President Biden refused to meet or even speak with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, seeking to punish him with ostracism for gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2018.

But that objection fell away on Friday when Mr. Biden and Prince Mohammed met face-to-face at a Mr. Biden’s first trip to Saudi Arabia for a regional summit focused on oil and Iran.

The two leaders briefly discussed the case but effectively agreed to disagree with Prince Mohammed’s culpability before announcing a series of initiatives aimed at highlighting the close partnership between their countries, U.S. and Saudi officials said.

And with that, the latest high-level attempt to hold Prince Mohammed accountable for the assassination ended.

The conversation between the two leaders took place behind closed doors, and several different versions emerged.

mr. Biden told reporters that he spoke privately with Prince Mohammed about what he called an “outrageous” murder early in their meeting, and even told the prince that Mr. Biden held him responsible.

“I made my point crystal clear,” Biden said.

Separately, Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s state minister for foreign affairs, described to reporters a less contentious human rights exchange that briefly mentioned the assassination.

Calling the assassination a “terrible mistake,” Mr. Al-Jubeir said the perpetrators of the crime had been punished, that the United States and Saudi Arabia had gone further, and that the United States was in no position to criticize, recalling the torture of detainees by US troops in Iraq’s Abu Jail Grabe. .

mr. Khashoggi was one of Saudi Arabia’s most famous journalists and for many years was considered a palace insider who could effectively explain the kingdom’s point of view.

But after Prince Mohammed came to power in 2015, Khashoggi criticized the prince for his intolerance of dissent and, fearing arrest, fled to the United States, where he wrote columns for The Washington Post criticizing the prince’s initiatives.

In October 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain the documents he needed to marry his Turkish fiancee. Have never went out.

Turkish officials and a United Nations investigator later detailed how he encountered a group of assassins sent from Saudi Arabia who strangled him and injected him with a tranquilizer, killing him. The medical examiner then dismembered his body, and the body double roamed Istanbul in Mr. Khashoggi’s clothes in a failed attempt to convince the world that he is still alive.

For weeks, Saudi officials denied that the kingdom was behind his crime, but the perpetrators were caught on camera and identified, and some of them were closely associated with Prince Mohammed.

Saudi officials eventually acknowledged Mr Khashoggi but insisted it was done by rogue agents without such an order from Riyadh.

Although Prince Mohammed said he had no prior knowledge of the plot, the assassination left a deep mark on his attempts to present himself as a visionary reformer. Saudi court, which convicted eight people in connection with the assassination, little was done to quell international outrage.

The murder of Mr. Khashoggi was the main reason Mr. Biden vowed during his campaign to treat the Saudis “like the pariahs they are.”

At the White House, he authorized the release of a CIA assessment that said the prince had authorized the operation that led to Mr. White’s assassination. Death of Khashoggi. mr. Biden also refused to talk to Prince Mohammed, saying his counterpart is the king.

Until Friday, that is, when Mr. Biden met with Prince Mohammed to discuss oil supplies, regional security and other issues.