Politics

Biden said he raised murder of Jamal Khashoggi with Saudi leaders after MBS fist bump

Key Points
  • President Joe Biden gave a friendly fist bump to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA has said likely ordered the brutal 2018 slaying of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.
  • Biden's warm gesture to Bin Salman as the president exited a limousine came ahead of their meeting in Saudi Arabia, a sit-down that the president earlier claimed would not happen.
  • Biden also had promised during his 2020 presidential campaign to make the Saudi government "pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are."
VIDEO9:2209:22
President Biden delivers remarks after meeting in Saudi Arabia

President Joe Biden said he raised the issue of the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi with Saudi leaders on Friday after giving a friendly fist bump to the nation's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the CIA has said likely ordered the brutal 2018 slaying in Turkey.

Biden, who faced blistering criticism for even seeing the prince, told reporters that during his sitdown in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with bin Salman "he basically said that he was not personally responsible" for the killing of Khashoggi.

"I indicated that I thought he was," Biden said.

The president said that bin Salman told him he "took action against those who were responsible, and then I went on to talk more about how dealing with any opposition to the, or criticism of the Saudi administration in other counties was viewed to me as a violation of human rights."

"With the 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," the president said. "I made my view crystal clear. I said very straightforwardly, for an American president. To be silent on the issue of human rights is inconsistent or inconsistent with who we are and who I am."

"What happened to Khashoggi was outrageous," he told reporters during a question-and-answer session.

Biden's warm physical greeting to bin Salman came as the president exited a limousine ahead of their meeting, a session that the president earlier claimed would not happen.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman fist bumps U.S. President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Al Salman Palace, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022.
Bandar Algaloud | Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court | via Reuters

"I'm not going to meet with MBS," Biden said last month. "I'm going to an international meeting, and he's going to be part of it." 

Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz retweeted a photo of Biden's fist bumping the prince, with a message from Khashoggi's Twitter account: "Hey @POTUS. Is this the accountability you promised for my murder. This blood of MBS's next victim is on your hands."

Biden was asked about that tweet during his comments to reporters.

"I'm sorry she feels that way. I was straightforward then and I was straightforward today," Biden said.

But Biden laughed when a reporter said he was coming under a lot of criticism for his fist bump of the prince.

Asked how he could be sure Saudi Arabia would not murder someone else like Khashoggi, Biden snapped, "God love you, what a silly question."

"How could I possibly be sure of any of that?" the president asked. "I just made it clear if anything occurs like that again, they'll get that response and much more."

Fred Ryan, the publisher and the CEO of The Washington Post, in a statement, said, "The fist bump between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman was worse than a handshake — it was shameful."

"It projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking," Ryan said in that statement, which was tweeted by The Post's spokeswoman.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, the Virginia Democrat who represents the district where Khashoggi was living at the time of his killing, tweeted: "Jamal Khashoggi, my constituent, was murdered and dismembered at the direction of the Saudi Crown Prince. This is no time for business as usual."

Biden separately shook hands with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the crown prince's father, on Friday.

Biden had promised during his 2020 presidential campaign to make the Saudi government "pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are."

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz receives U.S. President Joe Biden at Al Salman Palace upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022.
Bandar Algaloud | Saudi Royal Court | via Reuters

As the meeting was set to start Friday, NBC reporter Peter Alexander shouted to Bin Salman, "Jamal Khashoggi, will you apologize to his family?"

A Saudi aide then tightly grabbed Alexander's arm, the reporter tweeted. Alexander added that "MBS had a slight smirk" on his face after he asked the question.

Even before his fist-bump with the suspected mastermind of Khashoggi's killing, Biden was being blasted by some for even traveling to oil-rich Saudi Arabia, much less visiting with the man suspected of responsibility for the assassination.

"We feel betrayed," Abdullah Alaoudh, the U.S.-based leader of the National Assembly Party, a Saudi opposition group, told NBC News earlier this week. "We were promised to be protected from MBS."

Alaoudh said Monday that Biden's visit could help the crown prince "get away with murder."

Bin Salman has denied being involved in the brutal Oct. 2, 2018, slaying of the Saudi citizen Khashoggi in the country's Istanbul consulate by a team of intelligence operatives linked to the prince.

American officials have said that Khashoggi's body was dismembered with a bone saw.

"Absolutely not," Bin Salman told the CBS News show "60 Minutes" when asked if he ordered the killing.

"This was a heinous crime," he said in that interview. "But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government."

Saudi Arabias Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) takes part in a working session with the US President Joe Biden (3-L) at the Al Salam Royal Palace in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, on July 15, 2022.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

While the Saudi government at first denied any involvement in the killing, it later claimed that the intelligence team accidentally killed him while trying to extradite him against his will to Saudi Arabia.

Before his killing, Khashoggi was living in exile in the United States in order to write without the risk of being jailed by his home country.

Biden last week published an op-ed in The Washington Post — Khashoggi's newspaper — justifying his visit to Saudi Arabia.

"From the start, my aim was to reorient — but not rupture — relations with a country that's been a strategic partner for 80 years," Biden wrote in that article, which mentions the slain journalist by name once.

"I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia," the president wrote. "My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad, as they will be during this trip, just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank."