Baltimore Sun

US raises murder in Saudi meeting

Biden meets prince thought to be behind journalist’s slaying

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — President Joe Biden said he brought up the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his meeting Friday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, rejecting the idea he was ignoring the kingdom’s human rights abuses as he tries to reset a critical diplomatic relationsh­ip.

“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,” Biden said. “I’ll always stand up for our values.”

U.S. intelligen­ce believes that the crown prince likely approved the killing of Khashoggi four years ago.

Biden said Prince Mohammed claimed that he was “not personally responsibl­e” for the death.

“I indicated I thought he was,” the president said he replied.

It was the first encounter between the leaders, beginning with a fist bump outside the royal palace in Jeddah, in a relationsh­ip that could reshape security partnershi­ps in the Middle East and the flow of oil worldwide.

The president’s three hours at the royal palace in Jeddah were seen as a diplomatic win for the crown prince, who has tried to rehabilita­te his image, draw investment­s to the kingdom for his reform plans and bolster the kingdom’s security relationsh­ip with the U.S.

Biden seemed to approach

it as a necessary if somewhat distastefu­l step to improve relations with the world’s top oil exporter amid rising gas prices and concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The United States played down expectatio­ns for any immediate increases in Saudi oil production, which could help alleviate high gas prices that are politicall­y damaging to Biden back home.

But the White House said it anticipate­d “further steps” over coming weeks that “will help stabilize markets considerab­ly.”

The U.S. president had long refused to speak to Prince Mohammed, the

presumed heir to the throne held by his father, King Salman. But those concerns have been eclipsed by other challenges, including Iranian aggression in the Middle East and the faltering effort to use diplomacy to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

The Saudis held a subdued welcome for Biden at the airport in Jeddah, with none of the ceremony that accompanie­d his earlier stop this week in Israel.

At a meeting with several advisers, Biden and Prince Mohammed sat across from each other, an arrangemen­t that burnished the perception that they are

counterpar­ts. There had been considerab­le speculatio­n about how Biden, who had vowed as a presidenti­al candidate to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” for its human rights record, would go about interactin­g with the prince.

Access for journalist­s was limited and reporters were only briefly allowed into their meeting. Biden did not answer when reporters asked if he still considered Saudi Arabia a pariah, nor did Prince Mohammed respond to a shouted question whether he would apologize to Khashoggi’s family.

Biden arrived in Jeddah on the third day of a four-day

swing through the Middle East. He spent the first two days meeting Israeli officials and traveled to the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Friday to meet Palestinia­n Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and others before flying to Saudi Arabia.

In the West Bank, Biden offered compassion and financial aid for hopestarve­d Palestinia­ns but also delivered a blunt acknowledg­ment that the “ground is not ripe” for new attempts to reach an elusive peace.

The stalemate has left millions of Palestinia­ns living under Israeli military rule. Biden said they “deserve a state of their own that’s independen­t, sovereign, viable and contiguous. Two states for two peoples, both of whom have deep and ancient roots in this land, living side by side in peace and security.”

But, Biden added during a joint appearance with Abbas, “Even if the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiatio­ns, the United States and my administra­tion will not give up on bringing the Palestinia­ns and the Israelis, both sides, closer together.”

Biden offered more than $300 million for the Palestinia­ns, including a proposed $100 million for hospitals that requires congressio­nal approval.

However, Biden did not criticize Israel for expanding settlement­s in occupied territory that the Palestinia­ns want for a future state. Nor did he mention his unfulfille­d pledge to reopen a U.S. consulate in east Jerusalem, which served as a de facto embassy to the Palestinia­ns before President Donald Trump closed it three years ago.

Abbas, in his own remarks, said “the key to peace” in the region “begins with ending the Israeli occupation of our land” and he said Israel “cannot continue to act as a state above law.”

Biden also will take part in a Saturday gathering of leaders from the Gulf Cooperatio­n Council —Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — before returning to Washington. The leaders of Egypt, Iraq and Jordan are also to attend.

Biden’s national security adviser said the president would make a “major statement” on his vision for the Middle East.

 ?? BANDAR ALJALOUD/SAUDI ROYAL PALACE ?? President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greet each other by bumping fists before their anticipate­d and carefully planned meeting Friday at Al-Salam palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
BANDAR ALJALOUD/SAUDI ROYAL PALACE President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greet each other by bumping fists before their anticipate­d and carefully planned meeting Friday at Al-Salam palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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