Biden defends visit to Saudi Arabia inspite of Khashoggi killing.

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After Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered, Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a pariah.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid listens as President Biden speaks during a virtual summit with the leaders of India and the United Arab Emirates in Jerusalem, July 14.

JERUSALEM — President Biden defended his decision to meet with the Saudi crown prince who orchestrated the killing and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying the Saudis must be involved in any effort to stabilize a volatile region.

Biden made the statement during a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on the second day of a five-day trip to the Middle East.

“My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear and I have never been quiet about talking about human rights,” he said in response to a question. “The reason I’m going to Saudi Arabia is to promote U.S. interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity to reassert our influence in the Middle East.”

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Biden also said alienating the Saudis would contribute to a leadership vacuum and added “I always bring up human rights,” though he never explicitly said he would bring up Khashoggi’s killing.

“There are so many issues at stake, I want to make sure that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum — vacuum that is filled by both Russia and China,” he said.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia who is widely called by his initials MBS, ordered the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist.

The killing was widely condemned, including by Biden on the campaign trail where he publicly vowed to make Saudi Arabia a pariah. He has expressed deep reservations to aides about meeting with Mohammed and said the country’s government has “very little social redeeming value.”

In June, he said “I’m not going to meet with MBS.”

The White House has since confirmed the meeting with MBS, saying that Biden will encounter the crown prince as part of a bilateral meeting with Saudi King Salman and the country’s broader leadership team.

During a Thursday meeting with Lapid earlier in the day, Biden spoke of the collaboration needed to stabilize the region, and to ensure that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon.

“This is a vital security interest to both Israel and the United States and I would add for the rest of the world as well,” he said.

He said that it would be the principal message in his meeting with the Saudis.

“When I see the Saudi leadership tomorrow, I’ll be carrying a direct message,” Biden said. “A message of peace and of the extraordinary opportunities a more stable integrated region could bring to the region and, quite frankly, to the rest of the world.”

Still, his decision to share space with MBS has been a lightning rod. Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, condemned Biden’s visit.

“You can imagine how shocked and disappointed I was to learn that you would break your promise and travel to Saudi Arabia to likely meet with the crown prince — the person who U.S. intelligence determined was responsible for ordering Jamal’s murder,” she wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

“You condemn Russia for persecuting dissidents and committing war crimes in Ukraine. But the Saudis are executing the same horrific human rights abuses. Why are they being given a pass? Is that the price of oil?”

Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan chastised Biden for “going to Jiddah on bended knee to shake the ‘pariah’s’ bloodstained hand.”

Ryan wrote that the meeting “will signal that American values are negotiable” and that Biden “is turning a blind eye to Jamal’s murder in an effort to lower gasoline prices in advance of this fall’s midterms.”

Biden was to limit handshakes on this trip. He’s having trouble doing it.

Questions about the tense meeting even overshadowed the first segment of Biden’s trip, when he made his 10th visit to Israel and stepped off Air Force One offering fist bumps instead of handshakes.

The White House defended itself against criticism that the new presidential protocol that eschewed handshakes was less about protecting the president from the coronavirus and more about gracefully avoiding the optics of a handshake between MBS and Biden.

Source: Washington post

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