Biden’s fist bump belies unease between Saudi Arabia and US


Just hours after Joe Biden greeted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump forward of a protracted assembly between the pair, the US president was nonetheless insisting his go to to Saudi Arabia had nothing to do with the dominion’s day-to-day chief.

“I didn’t come here to meet with the crown prince,” Biden mentioned, pointing to his agenda, which included a summit with different Arab leaders.

For weeks forward of his go to to Saudi Arabia, the White House sought to make use of the summit to deflect criticism of the contentious journey to a nation Biden had pledged to deal with as a pariah. But it’s the photos of the president partaking Prince Mohammed — the person who US intelligence concluded authorised the operation that led to the homicide of Jamal Khashoggi — that could be essentially the most enduring legacy of the journey.

“This visit was mostly about optics, particularly the Saudi piece of it,” mentioned Steven Cook, a senior fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations. “There was a lot of upside for the Saudis and a lot of downside for the Americans.”

Biden and his workforce knew the journey would come at a political value — and that Riyadh would use his assembly with Prince Mohammed as an indication of the crown prince’s rehabilitation within the west, lower than 4 years after Khashoggi’s homicide. But with oil costs at their highest ranges in additional than a decade, and Washington attempting to isolate Russia, aides pressed Biden to restore ties with the world’s prime crude exporter.

The challenges, nevertheless, of resetting relations with Riyadh had been underscored when Saudi officers shortly pushed again in opposition to Biden’s assessments of two key US goals: human rights and oil.

The president informed reporters he raised the homicide of Khashoggi, who was killed in by Saudi brokers in 2018, on the prime of his assembly with Prince Mohammed.

Biden mentioned Prince Mohammed reiterated that he was “not personally responsible” for the killing — Riyadh has blamed the homicide on a rogue operation.

The president, who beforehand refused to talk to the crown prince, mentioned he “indicated that he probably was” in response. However, Saudi officers mentioned Prince Mohammed pushed again, insisting that these accountable had been tried and imprisoned.

US president Joe Biden fist bumps with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman © Saudi Royal Court

The officers mentioned the crown prince then cited US troops’ abuse of prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib jail as he sought to query Washington’s human rights report. The change was temporary, and the leaders moved to different subjects, they added.

Similarly, Biden informed reporters that he felt he had secured Saudi Arabia’s settlement to provide extra oil within the coming weeks. But Saudi officers, who’ve lengthy argued that merely pumping extra crude won’t dampen costs, had been fast to play this down.

They repeated Riyadh’s place that any choice to provide extra oil can be primarily based on demand.

“If you say did we promise more oil it means that we see a shortage in oil,” mentioned Saudi state minister for overseas affairs Adel al-Jubeir. “If we see a shortage in oil, there will be more oil produced.”

Biden did safe some overseas coverage wins on his first go to to the Middle East as president, which started with a cease in Israel. This included Saudi Arabia agreeing to open up its airspace to all flights to and from Israel, a rustic Riyadh has no formal relations with.

Washington and Riyadh additionally agreed to co-operate to construct 5G and 6G in Saudi Arabia, a deal the US hopes will wean the dominion off Chinese communications know-how.

But Brian Katulis, senior fellow on the Middle East Institute, mentioned the success of the go to would solely turn into clear within the coming weeks, and would hinge on the Saudis’ observe by means of.

“If Biden does get relief at the gas pump and he is seen as getting some relief for Americans on inflation through this visit . . . that is going to pay more political dividends than the price that comes from people spouting off on Twitter,” he mentioned.

Even earlier than it started, the journey had drawn criticism from human rights activists and US lawmakers, and Biden had struggled to articulate why he was going to Saudi Arabia.

At numerous instances he urged it was to push for higher regional integration, to bolster efforts to finish a seven-year struggle in Yemen and stabilise vitality markets.

The message acquired sharper over the course of the go to, and he ended with a speech on Saturday to the leaders of Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, through which he insisted that the US would stay an “active, engaged partner in the Middle East”.

“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran,” Biden mentioned.

Those feedback had been designed to handle the notion amongst Arab states that successive US administrations have sought to disengage from the area. That sentiment has pushed Gulf states specifically to deepen ties with Russia and China, the most important purchaser of oil from the area, and hedge their conventional relationships with Washington.

Yemeni security guards inspect damage to the telecommunications ministry following overnight air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition targeting the Huthi rebel-held capital Sana’a, in February
Yemeni safety guards examine harm to the telecommunications ministry following in a single day air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition concentrating on the Huthi rebel-held capital Sana’a, in February © Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

Gulf states and Israel additionally fear about Biden’s efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers, fearing it’s going to embolden their arch rival. Riyadh has been irritated by his criticism of human rights and his insurance policies on Yemen, the place Saudi Arabia leads a coalition preventing Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels.

Jon Alterman, the director of the Middle East programme on the Center for Strategic and International Studies, mentioned Biden’s “general instinct is that the Middle East will be a source of trouble and not opportunity”.

But components together with the vitality disaster triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and issues about China’s deepening footprint within the area, has meant he can not ignore the area.

“He is reluctant to get overly embedded, but he also understands that he can’t abandon it, either,” Alterman mentioned.

Whatever the view within the White House, Biden ended up delivering a “huge win” for Prince Mohammed, mentioned Ali Shihabi, a Saudi commentator aware of the royal courtroom’s considering.

“The visit was a vindication for MBS and one that proved that you can certainly not ignore Saudi and MBS let alone isolate them,” Shihabi mentioned.

Yet for Saudi Arabia’s critics, the journey dashed any lingering hopes Biden would again his earlier guarantees and maintain the dominion to account.

Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz tweeted her condemnation of the journey utilizing a pretend account of the previous journalist and an image of Biden and Prince Mohammed fist bumping.

“Hey @Potus, is this the accountability you promised for my murder?” she wrote.