US President Joe Biden said on Friday he clashed with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over attacks on dissidents during his visit to Saudi Arabia, a country he once vowed to make “rogue” over human rights violations.
Prince Mohammed caused widespread outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018. The operation, which the US intelligence agencies said, he “approved”.
Saudi officials deny Prince Mohammed’s involvement and say Jamal Khashoggi’s death was the result of a “fraudulent” operation.
“What happened to Khashoggi is outrageous,” Biden said Friday night after meeting with Prince Mohammed in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
“I just made it clear that if something like this happens again, they will get the same response and more.”
But Mr. Biden did not elaborate on exactly what he meant by “this response,” and earlier in the day he greeted Prince Mohammed, known as MBS, with a punch.
This prompted Khashoggi’s fiancée to tweet to Mr. Biden — in what she presented as an imaginary response from Jamal Khashoggi himself — that “the blood of the next MBS victim is on your hands.”
US President Joe Biden says he has no regrets about comments he made as a presidential candidate when he said Saudi Arabia should be “rogue” on the world stage because of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. Source: A MONKEY / Bandar Aljaloud v. Royal Court of Saudi Arabia
Despite his earlier condemnation of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, Biden now appears poised to rekindle ties with the kingdom, a key US strategic ally, major oil supplier and avid arms buyer.
Washington wants the world’s largest exporter of crude oil to open the floodgates to bring down soaring oil prices that threaten Democrats’ chances in the November midterm elections.
However, Mr. Biden has also tried to moderate expectations that a visit to the Middle East this week will bring immediate benefits.
“I’m doing my best to increase shipments to the United States of America,” he said, adding that concrete results won’t be seen “for another couple of weeks.”
US officials are also touting efforts to promote integration between Israel and the Arab countries.
Biden arrived in Saudi Arabia after a stopover in Israel, becoming the first U.S. leader to fly directly from Tel Aviv to an Arab country that does not recognize Israel.
Saudi Arabia has refused to join the US-brokered Abraham Accord, under which Israel normalized relations with the kingdom’s neighbors the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in 2020.
Riyadh has repeatedly said it will adhere to the Arab League’s long standing position of not establishing official ties with Israel until the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved.
But he is showing signs of being more open to Israel and announced on Friday that he is lifting overflight restrictions on flights to and from Israel, in what Mr. Biden called “historic.”
Acting Prime Minister of Israel Yair Lapid also praised this decision.
“This is the first official step towards normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia,” he said.
On Friday, the White House announced that peacekeepers, including US soldiers, would leave the strategic Red Sea island of Tiran, located near Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Analysts say the move could spur contacts between Israel and Saudi Arabia as they chart a possible path towards a formal bilateral relationship.
“Political Horizon” in Bethlehem
Jeddah marks the latest stop on Biden’s tour of the Middle East after Friday’s talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and meetings with Israeli officials a day earlier.
Since Israel banned Palestinians from engaging in political activities in Jerusalem, the US president traveled to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank to meet with Abbas.
Standing beside him, Mr. Biden reaffirmed his commitment to a two-state solution to end years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“There has to be a political horizon that the Palestinian people can really see,” Biden said.
U.S. President Joe Biden told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that he held him responsible for the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi while the pair were in talks to reset relations between the two countries. Source: A MONKEY / Bandar Aljalud
“I know the two-state goal seems so far away,” Biden added.
Mr. Abbas said he is “taking steps” to improve relations with Washington and is committed to reopening the US consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem, which was closed by Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Biden has made clear that he has no plans to reverse Mr. Trump’s controversial move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which has infuriated Palestinians who see its eastern sector as the seat of their future state.
As Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have stalled since 2014, the US delegation has focused on economic measures.
“Justice for Shirin”
Mr. Biden was greeted in Bethlehem with a billboard that read “Justice for Shirin,” referring to Shirin Abu Akle, a Palestinian-American journalist shot dead in May while covering an Israeli army raid in the West Bank.
Her family asked to meet with Mr. Biden during his visit, but instead his administration invited them to Washington.
“I think if President Biden (can) find an hour and a half to go and attend a sporting event, he should have respected the family and given them 10 minutes to listen to them,” said Samer Sinijavi, chairman of the Palestinian nonprofit. The Jerusalem Development Fund after Biden attended a ceremony for Jewish athletes on Thursday.
Speaking alongside Mr. Abbas, Mr. Biden said the US “will continue to push for a full and transparent account” of Abu Akle’s death.
Earlier this month, Washington concluded that she was likely shot from an Israeli military position, but there was no evidence of intent to kill.