WASHINGTON: President Biden on Friday drew backlash for his casual greeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman upon arriving in Saudi Arabia.
Biden, upon arriving at the royal palace in Jeddah, offered a fist bump to the crown prince, who U.S. intelligence officials concluded was involved in plotting the killing of Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
Critics viewed the gesture, which was followed by a face-to-face meeting with the crown prince, as elevating Salman on the world stage despite Biden’s campaign pledge to make the kingdom a pariah.
Fred Ryan, the publisher and CEO of The Washington Post, called the interaction between Biden and the crown prince “shameful.”
“The first bump between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman was worse than a handshake — it was shameful. It projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he was been desperately seeking,” Ryan said in a statement.
“If we ever needed a visual reminder of the continuing grip oil-rich autocrats have on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, we got it today,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tweeted. “One fist bump is worth a thousand words.”
Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Khashoggi, posted a mock tweet of what she thought Khashoggi would have written about the fist bump. It read: “Hey @POTUS, is this the accountability you promised for my murder? The blood of MBS’s next victim is on your hands.”
Biden pledged on the campaign trail to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the global stage for its human rights record, but political realities such as high gas prices, tensions with Iran and efforts to foster collaboration in the Middle East led to this week’s trip.
He initially insisted the trip to Saudi Arabia would not include a meeting with the crown prince, but that the Saudi leader would merely be a participant in broader meetings.
Pressed on Thursday about whether he would specifically bring up Khashoggi’s death with the crown prince, Biden was adamant he would discuss human rights.
“I always bring up human rights. But my position on Khashoggi has been so clear. If anyone doesn’t understand it, in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, then they haven’t been around for a while,” Biden said.