JEDDA, Saudi Arabia. As President Biden said, it sounded pretty dramatic.
After meeting with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmande facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, on Friday, for the first time since taking office, the president insisted that he pointedly accused him for the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
“He essentially said that he was not personally responsible for this. Biden told reporters. “I indicated that I thought he was.”
The White House did not back down on Saturday. “The President has been very clear on the gist of the conversation, and we support his version,” said John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council.
President Biden’s visit to the Middle East
The US president visited Israel and Saudi Arabia after calling the latter country a rogue state following the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Asked by reporters after landing in Washington if the Saudi minister was telling the truth, Mr. Biden simply replied, “No.” It seemed to irritate him that he doubted his trip. When a reporter asked if he regretted greeting Prince Mohammed with a punch, he complained, “Why don’t you guys talk about something important?”
Both parties were interested in organizing a meeting behind closed doors. mr. Biden has been condemned by human rights groups, media organizations and bipartisan politicians for meeting with the crown prince, whom the CIA said ordered the 2018 operation that killed Mr Khashoggi, US resident and columnist for The Washington Post. Speaking of his toughness behind closed doors, the president clearly hoped to soften some of the criticism for dropping his campaign promise to turn Saudi Arabia into a “Pariah”.
For their part, the Saudis were keen to present the meeting as a return to business as usual between the leaders of the two longtime allies and hoped to minimize the Khashoggi affair’s lasting significance. mr. Jubair confirmed to reporters that Mr. Biden raised the issue, but he described it in less confrontational terms. The last thing the Saudis wanted was an image of a president lecturing their young leader.
Indeed, both parties were keenly in tune with the choreography of the meeting. American news photographers traveling as part of the White House motorcade were unable to sit down to capture the President greeting the Crown Prince upon his arrival at the palace here. Biden’s aides were afraid. The Saudi Arabian government, for its part, made sure its official photographers were everywhere and took a lot of pictures together, which were immediately posted on the Internet.
mr. Biden is a natural storyteller with a penchant for embellishment. He often told the story of meeting Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in 2011 in his capacity as Vice President and told him: “I look into your eyes and don’t think you have a soul.” Others present at the time had no recollection of this particular conversation.
mr. Similarly, Biden described an open 1993 confrontation with Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian nationalist leader who unleashed an ethnic war in the Balkans. “I think you’re a fucking war criminal and should be tried as one of them” mr. Biden, then a senator, recounted what he said to Mr. Milosevic, according to his 2007 memoir Promises to Keep. Some other people in the room later said they didn’t remember the line.
mr. Biden likes to pose as a man standing up to dictators and swindlers. Another favorite story comes from a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2008, when the Afghan leader denied that his government was riddled with corruption. mr. Biden said he got so pissed off that he dropped the napkin and stated: “This dinner is over” and broke out.
Often, others in the screening room say that some version of what Mr. Biden described actually took place, just not with such theatricality in front of the camera. For example, during his presidential campaign, he told a touching story about honoring a war hero that fact-checkers at The Post later concluded. combined elements of three real events to a version that didn’t exist.
Offering his softer version of what happened between Mr. Biden and Prince Mohammed on Friday, the Saudis did not try to summon the president for misrepresenting information. In fact, they seemed to be anxious to avoid any perception of disagreement or tension. Princess Reema bint Bandar al Saud, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, told reporters that when it came to the Khashoggi affair, the conversation was “frank”.
The question was, how candidly?