Joe Biden fist bumps MBS, seeks to reset Saudi ties

Published on Jul 16, 2022 04:50 AM IST

White House officials have worked hard on the optics of the meeting between the US president and the crown prince, known as MBS.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (right) fist bumps US President Joe Biden, in Jeddah on Friday. (Reuters)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (right) fist bumps US President Joe Biden, in Jeddah on Friday. (Reuters)
Agencies |

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: US President Joe Biden gave a fist bump to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi state television showed on Friday, during a trip to Saudi Arabia that is being watched for body language and rhetoric as Washington seeks to reset relations. White House officials had worked hard on the optics of the meeting between Biden and the crown prince, known as MBS, who Biden has criticised for his role in the killing of Washington Post journalist and political opponent Jamal Khashoggi.

In the end, it was a fist bump in front of the king’s royal palace in Jeddah that is likely to be the defining image of the visit by the US president, who once promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state.

The meeting between the two leaders appeared designed to sidestep any strains to the relationship. At the beginning, members of the US media were brought in - but not allowed to use live transmission equipment, or boom mics that would have allowed reporters to hear what the leaders were saying.

Microphones stationed on the large table where the American and Saudi delegations sat were turned down, so that the opening greetings from both the president and crown prince were impossible to hear.

The two leaders also didn’t answer when reporters shouted questions about whether the Saudis owed an apology to Khashoggi’s family, or if Biden still considered the kingdom a “pariah” as he said on the campaign trail.

On arrival in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, Biden was greeted by Prince Khalid al-Faisal, the governor of Mecca province and not by the crown prince, the kindgom’s de facto rule, or the elderly king.

Typically, the White House releases names ahead of landing of foreign officials who will welcome the president, but this time details only came out after Biden left the airport.

When then US President Donald Trump, who enjoyed close ties with MBS, visited Saudi Arabia in 2017 he was greeted by King Salman, who has made few public appearances recently.

The Mecca governor met France’s president when he visited Jeddah last year.

‘Ground is not ripe’ for peace, says US president

During a visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Friday, President Joe Biden offered compassion and financial assistance for hope-starved Palestinians but also delivered a blunt acknowledgment that the “ground is not ripe” for new attempts to reach an elusive peace.

Political uncertainty in Israel, which is holding another round of elections in November, and the weakness of Palestinian Authority leadership has dimmed any chance of restarting negotiations that broke down more than a decade ago.

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”.

“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 said during a joint appearance with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Biden offered more than $300mn for the Palestinians on Friday, including $201 million for a United Nations agency that helps refugees and a proposed $100 million for hospitals.

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