President Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shared a fist bump Friday upon the president's arrival in the Arab kingdom on Friday, an image the Saudis immediately posted on social media.
As a candidate, Mr. Biden pledged to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah" globally, after the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey. U.S. intelligence in January 2021the operation "to capture or kill" Khashoggi.
The president raised the matter of Khashoggi during the meeting with the Saudis, he said, adding that that it would be against American values not to do so.
When a U.S. journalist asked the crown prince, known by his initials MBS, Friday if he would apologize to Khashoggi's family, MBS appeared to smile slightly, saying nothing.
Mr. Biden also shook hands Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Mr. Biden met with the king in a closed-press gathering along with MBS, then Mr. Biden began a meeting with MBS and other Saudi officials.
U.S. officials had signaled the president wouldn't be shaking hands during his Middle East trip, citing COVID. But Mr. Biden began with fist bumps, then handshakes in Israel, undercutting the administration's argument.
Ahead of Saudi Arabia stop, U.S. officials left it up to the president how he would greet leaders.
"The president will greet the leaders as he does, and there's no special rules for one leader or another," said a senior administration official, asked whether Mr. Biden and MBS would shake hands. "So, I know we've gotten this question quite a bit, but for those of us doing the work is really we're focused on substance of meetings, and not the particular greetings. The president is going to be about a dozen leaders and he will greet them as he usually does."
Khashoggi's fiancée tweeted an image of the fist bump, as if it were coming from Khashoggi's account.
"Hey @POTUS, Is this the accountability you promised for my murder? The blood of MBS's next victim is on your hands," the tweet read.
In an interview with CBS News Chief White House correspondent Ed O'Keefe, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Abdel al-Jubeir also confirmed that the subject of Khashoggi was raised during the conversation with Mr. Biden.
"President Biden mentioned that this issue is a concern to people in the U.S., especially in the U.S. Congress, and he also mentioned that he took Saudi Arabia's views with regards to this issue at face value," he said. "His royal highness the crown prince explained to him that this was a tragic mistake that was very painful or the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and that Saudi Arabia investigated this issue, charged individuals responsible for it and that a number of them have been convicted and are currently serving jail sentences."
But he called the idea that MBS knew of the killing, or certainly that he ordered it, "ridiculous."
On Saturday, the president is expected to meet with other heads of state during the Gulf Coast Cooperation or GCC+3 summit this week. U.S. officials have emphasized that the Saudis, while an important player in the Middle East, are just one of the countries present.
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