West News Wire: President Joe Biden suggests that the Saudi foreign minister’s account of the meeting between the president and the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Biden was alluding to remarks made by Adel al-Jubeir, who claimed to Fox News that he had not “heard” President accuse MBS explicitly of being responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi during their Friday conversation in Jeddah.
Al-Jubeir said in a Saturday interview with Fox News correspondent Alex Hogan, “I didn’t hear that exact statement.”
Since the founding fathers drafted the constitution, the US has been committed to promoting human rights. The president also noted that this is on the agenda for American leaders.
Upon returning to the White House early on Sunday after his four-day Middle East trip, Biden was asked by reporters if al-Jubeir was telling the truth in recounting his exchange with MBS. Biden pointedly replied: “No.”
Biden, who visited Saudi Arabia, Israel and the occupied West Bank in his first trip to the region as US president, previously told reporters he brought up Khashoggi’s killing at the top of his initial meeting with the Saudi crown prince.
He said he “indicated” to MBS that he held him “personally responsible” for the 2018 killing. He added that MBS repeatedly denied responsibility during their meeting.
Al-Jubeir, in an earlier interview with the Reuters news agency, said Biden “raised the issue and the crown prince responded that this was a painful episode for Saudi Arabia and that it was a terrible mistake”.
The Saudi minister added that Riyadh has taken steps to prevent similar mistakes in the future, while maintaining the long-held stance that the killing was a rogue operation that took place without the knowledge of MBS or any top officials.
The US intelligence community has concluded that MBS had “approved an operation” to capture or kill Khashoggi prior to his murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The latest back-and-forth underscores the continued complexity of Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia, a country he had promised to isolate in the wake of Khashoggi’s killing. That was before rising inflation and sky-high domestic fuel prices, spurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, pushed Washington closer to leading oil-producing allies such as Riyadh.
On Saturday, MBS said the kingdom would increase per day oil production from 11 million barrels to 13 million, “after which the kingdom will not have any additional capacity to increase production”.
That came as Washington and Riyadh, in a joint statement, pledged to help stabilise global energy markets.
The Biden administration has maintained the trip’s main focus was not oil prices, but to reassure allies that Washington has not turned away from the region and will not leave a power vacuum for Russia, China or Iran.
It has also emphasized that the trip was intended to help efforts to normalize ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, notably Riyadh’s Friday decision to open its airspace to all commercial aircraft, including those carrying passengers to and from Israel.
The minor improvements and agreements achieved between Washington and Riyadh were welcomed, but it remained uncertain if they would quell concerns that the visit marked a reversal in US foreign policy on human rights.
Biden is still being criticized for giving MBS a fist bump when he arrived in Jeddah. According to Fred Ryan, publisher of the Washington Post, the action “offered MBS the unjustified redemption he has been sorely seeking.”