Suara.com – President of the United States Joe Biden on Friday (15/7) said he told Prince Muhammad bin Salman that crown prince of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia it was held responsible for the murder of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Biden conveyed this opinion to MbS – a popular name for the prince, the de facto Saudi ruler – moments after the two met and exchanged fist-shaking greetings.
During his visit to Saudi Arabia, Biden said that MbS denied any involvement in the 2018 killings.
MbS said he had held those involved accountable, Biden said.
“About the killing of Khashoggi, I raised that issue at the start of the meeting, explaining what I thought about it then and what I think about it at the moment,” Biden said.
“I was frank and straight to the point. I stated my opinion clearly. I said very clearly, for an American president to be silent on the issue of human rights violations is not in line with who we are and who I am,” he said.
US intelligence says the crown prince approved the operation to capture and kill Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a royal insider turned critic, was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate building in Istanbul, Turkey.
Biden said what happened to Khashoggi was outrageous.
“He basically said he was not personally responsible for the (murder),” Biden said of MbS’s response to the meeting.
“I indicated that (in the past) I thought he was (involved),” Biden said, adding.
While campaigning for the US presidential election, Biden once said that Saudi Arabia should be made a “pariah” on the world stage because of Khashoggi’s killing.
On Friday, Biden said he did not regret his comments.
Early in Biden’s trip to the Middle East, officials said the US president would avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, to prevent transmission of COVID-19. However, Biden finally shook hands during his visit to Israel.
Biden’s interactions with the Saudi crown prince drew criticism at home, including from the Washington Post and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Before being killed, Khashoggi was in self-imposed exile in Virginia, USA.
His fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, uploaded a photo of Biden-MbS banging their fists. Cengiz said Khashoggi would probably have written something like this: “Is this the accountability you promised for my murder? The blood of the next MBS victim is now on your hands.”
Speaking to the press in Jeddah, Biden said he was concerned about Khashoggi’s fiancé’s feelings.
US reporters shouted questions about Khashoggi at the crown prince early in the meeting. “Are you going to apologize to his family?” asked a reporter.
MbS, who was sitting next to the Saudi energy minister, did not respond and smiled slightly as the reporters were led out of the room.
Biden said they also discussed energy issues and that he hopes to see Saudi, a major oil producer, act more on energy in the coming weeks.
Energy and security concerns led Biden and his aides to decide not to isolate Saudi Arabia, the Gulf oil giant, which is strengthening ties with Russia and China, despite Biden’s disgust over the killing of Khashoggi.
Biden wants to “re-align” US relations with Saudi Arabia and not cut them, said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
Jeddah will host a meeting of Arab leaders on Saturday.
Biden will discuss energy security with oil-producing Gulf leaders and hopes OPEC+ will do more to increase production.
“I’m doing whatever it takes to increase supplies to the United States, which I hope will materialize,” he said.
Biden added that Saudi top brass agreed with the urgency of the issue and he expected further steps to take in the coming weeks.
However, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said there had not been any agreement on oil.
He said the Saudis and OPEC would make decisions according to market conditions, not based on “hysteria” or “politics”.
The OPEC+ group of countries that includes Russia will meet on August 3.
Biden, who flew to Jeddah after visiting Israel, hailed the Saudi move which was seen as a sign of rapprochement with Israel.
He hoped the Saudi decision to allow more flights from Israel would lead the two countries to a broader normalization of relations.
He also announced a US-brokered agreement between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
According to the agreement, US-led peacekeepers will leave the strategic Red Sea island of Tiran.
Cairo ceded control of the island to Riyadh in 2017. Israel’s approval is required in any changes to security there. The negotiations were complicated and lengthy because Israel and the Saudis did not have diplomatic relations.
Biden became the first US president to fly directly from Israel to Saudi.
Ahead of Biden’s arrival, the Saudis said they would open their airspace to all airlines so as to pave the way for flights to and from Israel.
Biden described the opening as an important historic step towards building a more cohesive and stable Middle East.