US won’t let China and Russia dominate the Middle East, Biden tells Arab leaders

Credit…Mohammed Al-Shaikh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Since entering the White House, President Biden had refused to meet or even speak to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, seeking to ostracize him for the gruesome murder of the Saudi journalist. Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Agents in 2018.

But that objection was dropped on Friday when Mr. Biden and Prince Mohammed met face to face during Mr. Biden’s first trip to Saudi Arabia for a regional summit focused on oil and Iran.

The two leaders briefly discussed the case, according to US and Saudi officials, but effectively agreed to disagree on Prince Mohammed’s guilt before announcing a series of moves aimed at underscoring the close partnership between their countries.

And with that, the last high-profile effort to hold Prince Mohammed accountable for the murder came to an end.

The two leaders’ conversation took place behind closed doors and slightly different accounts emerged.

Mr Biden told reporters he confronted Prince Mohammed privately over what he called an “outrageous” murder at the start of their meeting, even telling the prince that Mr Biden held him to himself. responsible.

“I made my point very clear,” Mr Biden said.

Separately, Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, described to reporters a less controversial human rights exchange in which the killing was briefly mentioned.

Calling the murder a “terrible mistake”, Mr al-Jubeir said those responsible for the crime had been punished, the United States and Saudi Arabia had moved on and the United States was not able to criticize, recalling the torture of detainees in the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib by American troops.

Mr Khashoggi was one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent journalists and was for years seen as a palace insider capable of effectively explaining the kingdom’s point of view.

But after Prince Mohammed came to power in 2015, Mr Khashoggi criticized the prince’s lack of tolerance for dissenting views and, fearing arrest, fled to the United States, where he wrote articles for the Washington Post that criticized the prince’s initiatives.

In October 2018, Mr Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain the documents he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée. He never came out.

Turkish officials and a United Nations investigator then detailed how he was confronted by a commando sent from Saudi Arabia who strangled him and injected him with a tranquilizer, killing him. A medical examiner then dismembered his body and a body double wandered around Istanbul wearing Mr Khashoggi’s clothes in a failed attempt to convince the world he was still alive.

For weeks, Saudi officials denied the kingdom was behind his crime, but the perpetrators were caught on camera and identified, and some were closely linked to Prince Mohammed.

Saudi officials eventually acknowledged Mr Khashoggi’s murder, but insisted it was carried out by rogue agents without such orders from Riyadh.

Although Prince Mohammed said he had no prior knowledge of the plot, the murder left a deep stain on his efforts to portray himself as a forward-looking reformer. A Saudi trial that found eight men guilty of the murder did little to quell international outrage.

Mr Khashoggi’s killing was a key reason Mr Biden pledged during his election campaign to treat Saudis “like the outcasts they are”.

At the White House, he authorized the release of a CIA assessment saying the prince had authorized the operation that led to Mr Khashoggi’s death. Mr Biden also declined to speak with Prince Mohammed, saying his own counterpart was the king.

Until Friday, that is, when Mr Biden sat down with Prince Mohammed to discuss oil supplies, regional security and other issues.

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Post expires at 5:34pm on Thursday July 21st, 2022