President Joe Biden laughed on Friday night after he was questioned about criticism over his fist bump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman outside the royal palace in Jeddah.
The image of the friendly fist bump drew harsh backlash from the publisher of the Washington Post and the widow of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in a gruesome assassination that US intelligence services say bin Salman ordered.
Questioned about criticism of the fist bump by a DailyMail.com reporter, Biden laughed and then said it was a ‘silly question’ when asked how he can be sure another murder like that of Khashoggi wouldn’t happen again.
Biden also insisted that he brought up Khashoggi’s murder in his meeting with bin Salman, who is often referred to by his initials, MBS.
‘In respect to the murder of Khashoggi, I raised it at the top of the meeting, making it clear what I thought of it at the time, and what I think of it now,’ Biden told reporters from a Jeddah hotel after his meetings with the Saudis. ‘I was straightforward and direct … I made my view crystal clear.’
‘What happened to Khashoggi was outrageous,’ Biden later offered.
Biden told reporters that MBS ‘basically said he was not personally responsible’ for the gruesome killing that took place in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
‘I indicated I thought he was,’ Biden continued. ‘He said he was not personally responsible for it and he took action against those who were responsible.’
An American intelligence report said MBS directed the assassination of Khashoggi, a Saudi-born critic of the kingdom, who was living in the United States.
After Biden fist-bumped MBS as he arrived for a series of Friday night meetings at the Al Salman Royal Palace in Jeddah, Fred Ryan, the publisher and CEO of The Washington Post – which employed Khashoggi – called Biden’s fist bump with the crown prince ‘shameful.’
‘The fist bump between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman was worse than a handshake – it was shameful,’ Ryan said in a statement. ‘It projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.’
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, shared what she believed her late love’s reaction would be to the fist bump: ‘Is this the accountability you promised for my murder? The blood of MBS’s next victims is on your hands.’
Biden was also read Cengiz’s comments by a reporter, who then asked for the president’s response.
‘I’m sorry she feels that way,’ the president answered. ‘I was straightforward back then. I was straightforward today.’
A handout photo of President Joe Biden (left) fist-bumping Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right) as he arrived for a meeting with the controversial royal Friday evening in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
President Joe Biden said Friday night that he brought up the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
At the press conference, Biden once again downplayed that his meetings in Saudi Arabia were focused on the crown prince, the de facto leader of the oil-rich nation.
After calling Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah state’ during his campaign for president, Biden now appears eager to re-engage with the kingdom, which is the world’s top crude exporter, a US strategic ally, and major buyer of American weapons.
As soaring oil prices feed US inflation, which remains a top political threat to Democrats in November, Biden is hoping to convince Saudi Arabia to open the floodgates on crude exports and bring global energy prices down.
After being received by MBS at the royal palace, the president’s first meeting was with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud. Journalists were not allowed in the meeting.
Biden’s second sit-down was with MBS and a larger working group of Saudi officials – but reporters were kept so far away the leaders’ exchanges were inaudible.
A handout photo of President Joe Biden (left) being escorted into Al Salman Palace by ‘MBS,’ Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Friday night
A handout photo of President Joe Biden (left) seated alongside Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right)
The US intel that led Biden to declare Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah state’
In 2019 on the campaign trail, Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia ‘pay the price, and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are’ over the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
The remarks came after U.S. intelligence officials concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself ordered the killing of Khashoggi, who was drugged and dismembered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Evidence reportedly included intercepts of MBS’s phone calls in the run-up to the murder as well as communications between the kill team and a senior aide to the crown prince.
Nevertheless, with soaring oil prices fueling politically damaging inflation back home, Biden now appears ready to re-engage with Saudi in a bid to convince the kingdom to boost crude exports.
Boom microphones, which are standard equipment for broadcast-quality sound and are mounted on poles, were barred from the room.
American journalists shouted questions toward the crown prince asking if he’d apologize to Khashoggi’s family and asked Biden if he still viewed Saudi as a pariah state – a comment the now-president made during the presidential campaign – and later said he didn’t regret.
MBS smirked at NBC News’ Peter Alexander, who had asked the Khashoggi question, but otherwise ignored the reporters.
Alexander later tweeted that a Saudi aide grabbed his arm tightly after he yelled out his query.
Biden’s dismissive response to DailyMail.com on Friday is not the first time he has laughed or jeered at a reporter from the White House press corps, a habit that he has occasionally apologized for.
In January, he muttered ‘what a stupid question’ when asked if he was ‘waiting for Putin’ to make the first move in Ukraine.
And in December, he laughed and walked away when asked why he wasn’t doing more to get answers from China on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden’s bitterest interaction with the press may have come when he was caught on a hot microphone in January calling Fox News reporter Peter Doocy a ‘stupid son of a b***h.’
Doocy had asked whether Biden thought inflation would be a ‘political liability’ in the midterm elections. Biden later called the journalist to apologize for the SOB remark.
Washington Post Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan called President Joe Biden’s fist bump with MBS ‘shameful’ in a statement Friday. Biden laughed off a question from DailyMail.com about criticism over the gesture
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, shared what she believed her late love’s reaction would be to the fist bump: ‘Is this the accountability you promised for my murder? The blood of MBS’s next victims is on your hands’
A handout photo of President Joe Biden (second from right) being walked into the Al Salman palace by MBS (right), flanked by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (left) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken (second from left)
A handout photo of President Joe Biden’s (left) meeting with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (right) at the Al Salman Palace in Jeddah Friday night. Journalists were not let into the meeting between Biden and the Saudi king
A handout photo of President Joe Biden and his national security team meeting with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz at Al Salman Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
In the run-up to the president’s Middle East trip, there were questions about whether Biden would be photographed shaking the hand of MBS.
The White House said Biden would be limiting contact with officials in Israel and Saudi Arabia due to new variants of COVID-19 — a move that some speculated was designed to avoid a handshake moment with MBS.
In Israel, the president did initially deploy fist bumps when greeting officials, but was seen dropping the protocol to accept warm handshakes from Israeli former PM Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials.
In Saudi Arabia, Biden was greeted at the King Abdulaziz International Airport by two other members of the Saudi royal family: Prince Khalid Al Faisal, the governor of the Makkah Province, and Amb. Reema Bandar Al Saud, Saudi’s ambassador to the United States.
The Saudis rolled out a purple carpet for the president – and lined it with an honor guard holding swords.
Biden’s direct flight on Air Force One made history – as he became the first U.S. president to fly between Tel Aviv, Israel and Jeddah, which is Saudi’s commercial center and gateway to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Former President George W. Bush had previously flown between Israel and Saudi’s capital Riyadh.
Former President Donald Trump flew from Saudi Arabia to Israel, on his first trip abroad as president.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman smiles as he meets with President Joe Biden at the Al Salman Royal Palace Friday in Jeddah
President Joe Biden (center) flanked by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (right) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) participate in a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi leaders. Biden and MBS’ comments were inaudible because reporters weren’t allowed to bring boom microphones into the room
Earlier, the president cheered Saudi Arabia’s decision to open its airspace to Israeli planes in the hours before his Air Force One flight.
‘Saudi Arabia’s historic decision to open its airspace for all civilian planes, including those flying to and from Israel, is an important step towards building a more integrated and stable Middle East region,’ Biden said in a statement Friday morning from Jerusalem.
The move marked a longstanding ban on Israeli flights overflying Saudi Arabia.
The American president took credit for the thaw.
‘While this opening has long been discussed, now, thanks to months of steady diplomacy between my Administration and Saudi Arabia, it is finally a reality,’ Biden said.
‘Today, I will be the first president of the United States to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,’ he added.
‘As we mark this important moment, Saudi Arabia’s decision can help build momentum toward Israel’s further integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia,’ Biden also said. ‘I will do all that I can, through direct diplomacy and leader-to-leader engagement, to keep advancing this groundbreaking process.’
President Joe Biden arrived in Saudi Arabia Friday night, after making a historic flight between Tel Aviv, Isreal and Jeddah
President Joe Biden (left) is greeted on the tarmac by Prince Khaled Al Faisal (center) and Amb. Reema Bandar Al Saud (right), Saudi’s ambassador to the United States
President Joe Biden speaks with Saudi officials on the tarmac of the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah
Workers roll out a purple carpet after President Joe Biden landed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Friday night
After spending Friday in East Jerusalem and meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, in Bethlehem, Biden departed for Jeddah, where he will meet with Saudi’s controverisal Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Biden was given a send-off on the Ben Gurion International Airport’s tarmac by Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog.
Biden shook hands with the Israel leaders after the White House said in advance of the trip that the president would be limiting contact due to an uptick in cases of COVID-19.
Reporters immediately questioned if the decision was to avoid a photo-op of Biden shaking hands with MBS, as the Saudi crown prince is called.
Biden tested negative for COVID-19 Thursday, the White House said Friday.
President Joe Biden waved as he departed Israel Friday – making a historic flight between the Ben Gurion Airport, outside of Tel Aviv, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport in advance of his flight Friday afternoon to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
President Joe Biden shakes the hand of Israel’s President Isaac Herzog (third from right), while Prime Minister Yair Lapid (center) also sends off the American president from the Ben Gurion Airport tarmac Friday afternoon
President Joe Biden, wearing his trademark aviators, walks across the tarmac of the Ben Gurion Airport outside of Tel Aviv, in advance of his historic flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
President Joe Biden departs in Marine One from Bethlehem after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
President Joe Biden will meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (pictured), the de facto ruler of the country, in Jeddah on Friday
President Biden said his position on Jamal Khashoggi’s (above) murder has been ‘clear’: ‘I always bring up human rights but my position on Khashoggi had been clear. If anyone doesn’t understand it in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, then they haven’t been around for a while,’ he said
Biden on Thursday wouldn’t commit to bringing up the murder of Jamal Khashoggi when he meets with MBS, but the slain journalist’s widow says she has assurances the president will mention it.
Hanan Elatr Khashogi told Fox News she met with three administration officials who assured her that ‘the human rights issue, and on top of it, my husband’s tragedy, it will come up’ when Biden meets the crown prince on Friday in Jeddah.
Biden, however, dodged the question when asked about it during a press conference in Israel said his position on human rights has been ‘positively clear.’
‘My views have made it positively clear. I have never been quiet about talking about human rights,’ he said when asked about the meeting.
The president, when pressed again, said his position is ‘clear.’
‘I always bring up human rights but my position on Khashoggi had been clear. If anyone doesn’t understand it in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, then they haven’t been around for a while,’ he said.
And Khashoggi’s fiance Hatice Cengiz said the president must ask what has happened to the journalist’s body, which has never been recovered.
‘He has to ask what happened to his body? Where is his body? Still we do not have any answer,’ she told the Associated Press. ‘And people need to get the truth in this case. And we cannot forget.’
‘We cannot forget what happened to Jamal.’
Jamall Khashoggi’s widow Hanan Elatr Khashogi told Fox News she met with three administration officials who assured her that the slain journalist’s murder ‘will come up’
Biden, 79, called Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah’ state during the 2020 campaign after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that MBS ordered Khashoggi’s muder in Turkey in 2018. The journalist had written criticially of the crown prince’s reforms in Saudi.
The White House has said Biden stands by that statement but it also has taken great pains to emphasize the president is meeting with the aging King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and his government, which would include MBS, who, at the age of 36, is Salman’s heir to the throne and serves as defense minister.
Biden’s meetings with the royals will take place Friday night.
On Saturday he’ll attend the GCC+3 summit to talk oil prices and energy issues.
‘When I see the Saudi leadership tomorrow, I’ll be carrying a direct message,’ Biden said. ‘A message of peace and of the extraordinary opportunities a more stable integrated region could bring to the region and, quite frankly, to the rest of the world.’
The president argued, however, that he is also going to reassert the United States’ influence in the region to counter the growing power of Russia and China on the energy market.
‘The reason I’m going to Saudi Arabia, though, is much broader than as to promote U.S. interests,’ he said at his press conference with Israeli Prime MIinister Yair Lapid.
‘I think we have an opportunity to reassert what I think we made a mistake of walking away from – our influence in the Middle East. I’m going to meet with nine other heads of state. There are so many issues at stake. I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in a region and not create a vacuum,’ he said.
He was also clear he wants to counter growing Russian and Chinese influence.
Russia is the second largest energy producer in the world after Saudi and China is a huge energy consumer and purchaser.
‘The vacuum is filled by China or Russia – against the interest of Israel and the United States. The purpose of the visit is to coordinate with the nine heads of state,’ he said.
Human rights advocates have encouraged Biden not to make the trip without bringing up Khashoggi’s killing.
Khashoggi’s widow, Hanan Elatr Khashoggi, said that a national security official told her that Biden will mention her late husband’s name when he meets with MBS,
‘They assured me they will bring this concern up special, about the case of my husband, Jamal Khashoggi,’ she told Spectrum News.