President Joe Biden said at a briefing Friday afternoon in Saudi Arabia that he and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had agreed to significant new security measures during a highly anticipated meeting, touting the discussions as a success but offering few details about negotiations over Saudi oil output after he faced widespread criticism for greeting the crown prince, who has been accused of ordering the murder of a critic of the government, with a fist bump.
Biden said he immediately brought up the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi to start the meeting, adding he made it “crystal clear” to bin Salman that he believes the prince is responsible for ordering the killing.
The president said they discussed ensuring “adequate oil supplies” for the global market, but he did not specify whether the Saudis agreed to increase oil production, which was believed to be one of his primary goals for traveling to meet with the rulers of a country he has called a “pariah” over the killing of Khashoggi.
Biden said he is doing all he can to “increase oil supply for the United States” and vowed gas prices will continue to drop in the U.S., in part because of Friday’s discussions.
In terms of security, Biden said keeping Saudi Arabia safe from “very real threats from Iran and Iran’s proxies” was a major point of dialogue, along with the extension of a ceasefire in the conflict in neighboring Yemen and further normalizing Saudi relations with Israel through moves like opening airspace to Israeli flights.
Biden also said U.S. troops will leave Tiran Island in the Red Sea for the first time in more than 40 years, opening up the land for Saudi development.
The president laughed off a question about the controversial fist bump.
“The bottom line is this trip is about once again positioning America in this region for the future,” Biden said. “We are not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China to fill.”
The killing of Khashoggi loomed over Biden’s trip, with his choice to meet with bin Salman drawing criticism from across the political spectrum. A U.S. intelligence report released last year concluded that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s murder, which took place after the journalist and critic of the Saudi regime entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey to gather documents for his upcoming wedding. Khashoggi was later dismembered and his body has never been found. Critics also slammed Biden for appearing to go back on his word, pointing out how he promised during the 2020 campaign to punish Saudi Arabia for the killing if elected president. A defensive Biden fired back against his detractors over the past week, penning a Washington Post column on Saturday explaining the rationale for his trip and telling reporters Thursday: “My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear and I have never been quiet about talking about human rights.”
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, retweeted an image Friday of the Biden-bin Salman fist bump along with text reading, “The blood of MBS’s next victim is on your hands.” Biden responded by saying, “I’m sorry she feels that way.”
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