It started with “make them pay the price” and ended with a fist bump. From November 2019 to July 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden seems to have changed his firm stance of making Saudi Arabia leaders the “pariah” for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
After he arrived on Friday in Saudi Arabia, Biden participated in a bilateral meeting with the Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, one month after he emphasized that his meeting will be with a set of Gulf leaders where the crown prince will take part of it.
Why is Biden not committing to his Khashoggi punishment promises and what is he doing in Saudi Arabia?
“Reassert our influence in the Middle East,” Biden defended his travel plans during his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday. Biden and his advisers decided against isolating the Gulf oil giant out of energy and security concerns as the country is strengthening its ties with Russia and China.
In addition, as the U.S. is facing its greatest inflation crisis in four decades, which is expected to hurt the chances of the Democratic party in November’s midterm elections, Saudi Arabia has the ability to expand the global fuel supply as it is a big oil producer but it is unclear whether they plan to do so or whether doing so will significantly alter gas prices, which have declined recently.
OPEC+ group of oil-producing nations, led by Saudi Arabia, decided to increase oil production to offset Russian losses and combat rising oil prices and inflation in June. The U.S. could secure a commitment that OPEC+ will boost production in the months ahead, which could send a signal to the market that supplies are coming if necessary.
The U.S.-Saudi bilateral meeting on Thursday ended with one off-camera U.S. journalist asking the crown prince if he will apologize to Khashoggi’s family. A question was met with silence from the Crown Prince.
Biden who said he will be discussing human rights during this visit later on Friday confirmed to media that he told the crown prince he held him responsible for the murder of Khashoggi as they held talks meant to reset relations. Biden added that MBS denied involvement and said he had held those responsible to account.
“With respect to the murder of Khashoggi, I raised it at the top of the meeting, making it clear what I thought of it at the time and what I think about it now,” Biden told reporters.
“I was straightforward and direct in discussing it. I made my view crystal clear. I said very straightforwardly, for an American president to be silent on an issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am.”.
In February 2021, U.S. intelligence published a report claiming bin Salman gave the go-ahead for the operation to kidnap or murder Khashoggi.
“He basically said that he was not personally responsible for it,” Biden said of the crown prince’s response during their meeting. “I indicated that I thought he was.”