President Joe Biden gave a friendly fist bump Friday to Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the CIA has said likely ordered the brutal 2018 slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.
Biden’s warm gesture to Bin Salman as the president exited a limousine came ahead of their meeting in Saudi Arabia, a sit-down that the president earlier claimed would not happen.
“I’m not going to meet with MBS,” Biden said last month. “I’m going to an international meeting, and he’s going to be part of it.”
Biden separately shook hands with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the crown prince’s father, on Friday.
Biden had promised during his 2020 presidential campaign to make the Saudi government “pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are.”
As the meeting was set to start Friday, NBC reporter Peter Alexander shouted to Bin Salman, “Jamal Khasoggi, will you apologize to his family?”
A Saudi aide then tightly grabbed Alexander’s arm, the reporter tweeted. Alexander added that “MBS had a slight smirk” on his face after he asked the question.
Even before his fist-bump with the suspected mastermind of Khashoggi’s killing, Biden was facing criticism for even traveling to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
“We feel betrayed,” Abdullah Alaoudh, the U.S.-based leader of the National Assembly Party, a Saudi opposition group, told NBC News earlier this week. “We were promised to be protected from MBS.”
Alaoudh said Monday that Biden’s visit could help the crown prince “get away with murder.”
Bin Salman has denied being involved in the brutal Oct. 2, 2018, slaying of the Saudi citizen Khashoggi in the country’s Istanbul consulate by a team of intelligence operatives linked to the prince.
American officials have said that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered with a bone saw.
“Absolutely not,” Bin Salman told the CBS News show “60 Minutes” when asked if he ordered the killing.
“This was a heinous crime,” he said in that interview. “But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.”
While the Saudi government at first denied any involvement in the killing, it later claimed that the intelligence team accidentally killed him while trying to extradite him against his will to Saudi Arabia.
Before his killing, Khashoggi was living in exile in the United States in order to write without the risk of being jailed by his home country.
Biden last week published an op-ed in The Washington Post — Khashoggi’s newspaper — justifying his visit to Saudi Arabia.
“From the start, my aim was to reorient — but not rupture — relations with a country that’s been a strategic partner for 80 years,” Biden wrote in that article, which mentions the slain journalist by name once.
“I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia,” the president wrote. “My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad, as they will be during this trip, just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank.”