Saudi Arabia: Joe Biden fends off criticism ahead of Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·2-min read
Saudi Arabia: Joe Biden fends off criticism ahead of Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

President Joe Biden will meet with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman sparking criticism from inside his own Democrat party as he looks to reset Middle East relations following a spike in oil prices driven by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The decision to strengthen ties with the Saudi leader has raised eyebrows after he was implicated in the brutal assassination of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi who is believed to have been dismembered inside a consulate in Istanbul. His remains have never been found.

Mr Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, said Mr Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia is “heartbreaking” and accused the US president on Thursday of backing down from his pledge of prioritising human rights.

Mr Biden initially adopted a tough line with Saudi Arabia, describing it as a “pariah” on the campaign trail. After becoming president, he refused to speak directly with the crown prince and ordered the release of a US intelligence report that implicated Prince Mohammed in Khashoggi’s death.

He’s softened his tone since, with the administration now focused on isolating Russia, hedging against China and grappling with high oil prices.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (AP)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (AP)

White House officials declined to say whether Mr Biden will raise the murder of Mr Khashoggi, who was a Washington Post columnist with three US citizen children.

They also refused to say if the leaders would shake hands when they meet on Friday.

The prince has been credited with pushing through social changes in Saudi Arabia, allowing women to drive and travel freely, permitting concerts, opening movie theaters and de-fanging the once-feared religious police.

But only four months ago the kingdom carried out its largest mass execution in recent memory, of 81 men convicted on broad terrorism charges- around half of whom were minority Shiites.

“I always bring up human rights,” Mr Biden told reporters on the eve of his Saudi visit but stressed the purpose of his trip is “broader” and designed to “reassert” US influence in the Middle East.

He added: “[My] position on Khashoggi has been so clear, if anyone doesn’t understand it in Saudi Arabia or otherwise, they haven’t been around me for a while”.

Friends of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi hold posters bearing his picture as they attend an event marking the anniversary of his assassination. (AFP via Getty Images)
Friends of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi hold posters bearing his picture as they attend an event marking the anniversary of his assassination. (AFP via Getty Images)

Last week, Adam Schiff, a senior House Democrat, said he wouldn’t have visited the country or met Prince Mohammed if he were in Mr Biden’s position.

“This is someone who butchered an American resident, cut him up into pieces and in the most terrible and premeditated way,” Mr Schiff said. “Until Saudi Arabia makes a radical change in terms of (its) human rights, I wouldn’t want anything to do with him.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting