Biden poses for ‘family photo’ with Saudi Crown Prince MBS after clash over Khashoggi murder

Biden administration officials forced to defend the president’s decision to meet with MBS after he vowed to make Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah’ on the 2020 campaign trail

Rachel Sharp
Saturday 16 July 2022 20:07 BST
Joe Biden fist-bumps Saudi Crown Prince after vowing to make him a 'pariah'
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President Joe Biden posed for a “family photo” with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, just hours after the pair exchanged harsh words over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The president stood shoulder to shoulder with the crown prince, known as MBS, along with other Middle East leaders on Saturday, before he boarded Air Force One and left the region.

In the photos, Mr Biden stood with his hands clasped in front of him with MBS to his right. At one point, the two leaders appeared to exchange words.

They were joined for the photo call by Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa; Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi; Jordan’s King Abdullah II; Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani; Kuwait’s Crown Prince Meshal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah; Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhemi; United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Asaad bin Tariq al-Said, a special representative for the Sultan of Oman.

The so-called “family photo” comes after Friday’s meeting between Mr Biden and MBS where the US president said he confronted the Saudi crown prince over his role in Khashoggi’s death.

Speaking to reporters after the closed-door meeting, Mr Biden said that he had immediately raised the topic of Khashoggi’s murder with his counterpart.

“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 of it now,” he said.

“I was straightforward and direct in discussing it. I made my view crystal clear.”

On 2 October 2018, Khashoggi – a Washington Post journalist and outspoken critic of the Saudi government – was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

US intelligence agencies later concluded that MBS had ordered his killing.

President Joe Biden stands shoulder to shoulder with MBS during a photoshoot on Saturday (EPA)

MBS denied any responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder when he came face to face with Mr Biden on Friday and fired back that the US has its own share of controversies.

A source familiar with the meeting told CNN that MBS responded to Mr Biden’s references to Khashoggi’s death by bringing up the US military abuse of prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

The source said that MBS told Mr Biden that the two incidents reflected badly on America.

Back in 2004, graphic photos emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison showing US military personnel torturing and sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners who had been captured and held at the detention centre. The photos eventually led to the convictions of 11 US soldiers.

Meanwhile, Abu Akleh was shot and killed back this May while she was covering an Israeli military operation in the West Bank.

The US has come under fire for its response to her death, with the journalist’s family and Palestinian officials urging officials to hold Israel to account.

On Friday, Mr Biden visited the West Bank alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas where he insisted that the US was committed to getting “full and transparent accounting” of her killing.

Biden administration officials have been forced to defend the president’s decision to meet with the crown prince, particularly in light of Mr Biden’s statements during the 2020 election campaign that he would make Saudi Arabia a “pariah”.

President Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appear to exchange words during the photos (EPA)

When the two leaders met on Friday, the president sparked further backlash by greeting MBS with a friendly fist-bump.

On Saturday, he then formally invited the UAE president to visit the US sometime this year – just two days after a US attorney who previously represented Khashoggi was detained at an airport in Dubai.

Asim Ghafoor, a US citizen and civil rights attorney from Virginia, was detained on Thursday while travelling to Istanbul for a family wedding, according to human rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

The human rights group said Mr Ghafoor is now being held in a detention facility in Abu Dhabi on charges related to an in absentia conviction for money laundering. Mr Ghafoor had no prior knowledge of any conviction, DAWN said in a statement on Friday.

During his visit to the Middle East, which concluded on Saturday, Mr Biden also met with several other Middle East leaders in efforts to improve diplomatic relations with the region and help combat escalating gas prices in the US.

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