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Biden criticized for Saudi prince fist bump after Khashoggi killing

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President Joe Biden said he raised the difficulty of the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi with Saudi leaders on Friday after giving a friendly fist bump to the nation’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the CIA has said likely ordered the brutal 2018 slaying in Turkey.

Biden, who faced blistering criticism for even seeing the prince, told reporters that in his sitdown in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with bin Salman “he principally said that he was not personally responsible” for the killing of Khashoggi.

“I indicated that I assumed he was,” Biden said.

The president said that bin Salman told him he “took motion against those that were responsible, after which I went on to speak more about how coping with any opposition to the, or criticism of the Saudi administration in other counties was viewed to me as a violation of human rights.”

“With the respect to the murder of Khashoggi, I raised it at the highest of the meeting, making it clear what I assumed of it on the time, and what I believe of it now,” the president said. “I made my view crystal clear. I said very straightforwardly, for an American president. To be silent on the difficulty of human rights is inconsistent or inconsistent with who we’re and who I’m.”

“What happened to Khashoggi was outrageous,” he told reporters during a question-and-answer session.

Biden’s warm physical greeting to bin Salman got here because the president exited a limousine ahead of their meeting, a session that the president earlier claimed wouldn’t occur.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman fist bumps U.S. President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Al Salman Palace, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022.

Bandar Algaloud | Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court | via Reuters

“I’m not going to fulfill with MBS,” Biden said last month. “I’ll a world meeting, and he’ll be a part of it.” 

Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz retweeted a photograph of Biden’s fist bumping the prince, with a message from Khashoggi’s Twitter account: “Hey @POTUS. Is that this the accountability you promised for my murder. This blood of MBS’s next victim is in your hands.”

Biden was asked about that tweet during his comments to reporters.

“I’m sorry she feels that way. I used to be straightforward then and I used to be straightforward today,” Biden said.

But Biden laughed when a reporter said he was coming under a number of criticism for his fist bump of the prince.

Asked how he may very well be sure Saudi Arabia wouldn’t murder another person like Khashoggi, Biden snapped, “God love you, what a silly query.”

“How could I possibly ensure of any of that?” the president asked. “I just made it clear if anything occurs like that again, they’ll get that response and rather more.”

Fred Ryan, the publisher and the CEO of The Washington Post, in a press release, said, “The fist bump between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman was worse than a handshake — it was shameful.”

“It projected a level of intimacy and luxury that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately looking for,” Ryan said in that statement, which was tweeted by The Post’s spokeswoman.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, the Virginia Democrat who represents the district where Khashoggi was living on the time of his killing, tweeted: “Jamal Khashoggi, my constituent, was murdered and dismembered on the direction of the Saudi Crown Prince. This is not any time for business as usual.”

Biden individually 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 worth and make them in actual fact the pariah that they’re.”

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz receives U.S. President Joe Biden at Al Salman Palace upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022.

Bandar Algaloud | Saudi Royal Court | via Reuters

Because the meeting was set to begin Friday, NBC reporter Peter Alexander shouted to Bin Salman, “Jamal Khashoggi, 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 query.

Even before his fist-bump with the suspected mastermind of Khashoggi’s killing, Biden was being blasted by some for even traveling to oil-rich Saudi Arabia, much less visiting with the person suspected of responsibility for the assassination.

“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 against MBS.”

Alaoudh said Monday that Biden’s visit could help the crown prince “get away with murder.”

CNBC Politics

Read more of CNBC’s politics coverage:

Bin Salman has denied being involved within the brutal Oct. 2, 2018, slaying of the Saudi citizen Khashoggi within 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 pacesetter in Saudi Arabia, especially because it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.”

Saudi Arabias Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) takes part in a working session with the US President Joe Biden (3-L) on the Al Salam Royal Palace within the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, on July 15, 2022.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

While the Saudi government at first denied any involvement within the killing, it later claimed that the intelligence team by chance killed him while attempting to extradite him against his will to Saudi Arabia.

Before his killing, Khashoggi was living in exile in the US to be able to write without the danger 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 beginning, my aim was to reorient — but not rupture — relations with a rustic that is been a strategic partner for 80 years,” Biden wrote in that article, which mentions the slain journalist by name once.

“I do know that there are a lot of 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 all the time on the agenda once I travel abroad, as they might be during this trip, just as they might be in Israel and the West Bank.”

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