Biden punching MBS “victory” for US President – Saudi Foreign Minister

The US president faced backlash over how informally he greeted the kingdom’s de facto ruler upon his arrival in Jeddah on Friday. Critics said the punch was inappropriate given US suspicions that the crown prince was responsible for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Biden’s subsequent 2020 campaign promise to turn Saudi Arabia into a “rogue state.”

But Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan played down the controversy in an interview with CNN correspondent Nick Robertson hours after the president left Jeddah on Saturday.

“I see this image as a victory for President Biden,” bin Farhan said.

“He got a meeting with a key leader in the region from this. He got from this, I think, the intensification of the strategic partnership between Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Bin Farhan said it was “quite normal” that the leaders exchanged “courtesies”, adding, “I don’t know why we’re obsessed with punching.”

Biden came to Jeddah looking for a solution to one of his main political problems at home — sky-high gas prices — as diplomacy with Saudi Arabia in the Middle East was seen as one of the few ways he could lower prices that are creating tension. for millions of Americans. Bin Farhan said the crown prince is open to increasing Saudi Arabia’s oil capacity – within certain limits.

“The most important point in the crown prince’s statement today was that we need to have a balanced approach to our energy transition because the kingdom, by increasing its capacity to 13 million barrels, cannot go beyond that,” he said.

However, critics say Biden’s visit was overshadowed by lingering concerns about human rights problems in Saudi Arabia.

Concerns about the appearance of the trip were highlighted on Saturday when it was revealed that when Biden raised the Khashoggi killing, the crown prince responded by saying the US “made my mistakes”. In particular, the Crown Prince cited the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and the May murder of Palestinian American journalist Shirin Abbu Akle in the occupied West Bank as incidents that reflected badly on the United States.

For its part, the White House defended Biden’s use of punching as part of an effort to reduce physical contact amid the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus variant, noting that Biden also punched several Israeli leaders before his arrival in Jeddah.

Back at the White House Saturday night, Biden looked irritated when asked if he regretted the salute. “Why don’t you guys talk about something important. I am happy to answer an important question,” he said.

The meeting between Biden and the crown prince was one of the most closely watched moments of Biden’s landmark visit to the Middle East, as the controversy distracted from some of the president’s other agenda items, including discussion of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Prior to Biden’s arrival, Saudi Arabia had been pressuring the US to provide security guarantees if talks with Iran failed. The latest round of talks between the US and Iran has stalled.

AT statement After the meeting, the White House said Biden “reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to working with Saudi Arabia and other allies and partners in the Middle East to integrate and expand security cooperation.”
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While Saudi Arabia – one of Iran’s biggest regional rivals – supports a tough response to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, other Gulf states are wary of being caught in the crossfire. and advocate negotiations as the way forward. In particular, the United Arab Emirates has stated that it opposes the creation of a regional military alliance aimed specifically at Iran.

In an interview with CNN’s Nick Robertson, bin Farhan downplayed any differences, saying that all six Gulf Cooperation Council countries – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain – have joined forces in support of “negotiations” with Iran.

He said Saudi Arabia wanted to resolve its differences with Iran through diplomacy, but was also working with the US to build capacity to “defend against potential Iranian aggression.”

“The Crown Prince’s discussion with President Biden focused on how to counter the Iranian threat. And here we talked, first of all, about negotiations, as well as creating enough pressure to induce the Iranians to sit down at the negotiating table,” bin Farhan. said in response to a question that Israel is considering striking Iran as a last resort to stop its production of nuclear weapons.

“We are negotiating with Iran, as you know, as well as with the UAE, as well as with our friends in Qatar, Kuwait, so we all, as a GCC collective, are talking to the Iranians, because we want to resolve our differences through dialogue, we hope that the Iranians will respond in kind,” he added.

However, bin Farhan told Robertson, “Obviously we have to defend ourselves.”

“We are working with the US to build our capabilities and those of other countries in the region… to protect ourselves from potential Iranian aggression.”

He added: “We have heard about President Biden’s commitment to the strong defense of the kingdom.”