Biden greets Saudi crown prince with fist bump

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President Biden greeted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump on Friday ahead of the controversial face-to-face meeting between the two men in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Footage displayed on Saudi state television showed Biden emerging from his limo and fist-bumping the crown prince before the two entered Al Salam Royal Palace.

Biden then met privately with Saudi King Salman before holding a larger meeting with his team, the crown prince and Saudi council ministers. Reporters were briefly allowed into the room, capturing images of Biden, the crown prince and other officials seated at a long table inside the palace.  

There had been questions leading up to the meeting Friday about how Biden would greet the crown prince, whom Biden previously condemned on the campaign trail over the murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

The White House said the president would “minimize contact” with other officials on the multiday trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, citing the spread of COVID-19 variants. But that policy led to speculation that Biden would use it as an excuse to avoid shaking hands with Crown Prince Mohammad, and Biden complicated the plans by shaking some hands while in Israel.

Still, the Saudi foreign ministry quickly publicized images of Biden fist-bumping and walking with the crown prince. Images released by the government also showed Biden shaking hands with King Salman.

The meeting between Biden and Crown Prince Mohammad has been intensely controversial due to the U.S. intelligence community assessment that the crown prince approved the assassination of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Biden told reporters Thursday that he does not shy away from raising human rights issues in meetings with other leaders but stopped short of committing to discussing Khashoggi’s murder with the crown prince.  

“The president believes very strongly that his ability to be effective as a leader and his ability to engage effectively diplomatically depends on his ability to be able to have direct diplomacy without playing out all of these issues in the press,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One earlier Friday.

“Now, what he will stand behind and send a very clear message on, and did yesterday, is the proposition that fundamental issues of human rights are going to be on the agenda,” Sullivan added. 

While campaigning for president in 2020, Biden pledged to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over Khashoggi’s murder. The president took a cooler approach to the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia during his first year in office than his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The White House announced plans for Biden’s Middle East trip, including a stop in Saudi Arabia, earlier this year amid domestic pressure over high gas prices. 

Biden is expected to discuss energy security in his meetings with the Saudis, though the White House has signaled there will not be an immediate announcement on boosting oil production on the trip.  

The White House also described the trip as an effort by Biden to reassert U.S. presence in the Middle East at a time of rising threats from Russia and China. Biden sought to usher in warmer ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, seeing some success as he became the first U.S. president to fly directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia on Friday. He is also seeking cooperation on threats from Iran and wants to bring an end to the war in Yemen. 

Biden was greeted at the airport by the governor of Makkah, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and consular officials. The greeting paled in comparison to the elaborate reception given to Trump, who made his first foreign trip as president to Saudi Arabia. 

Updated at 1:14 p.m.

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