President Joe Biden has accused a Saudi official of lying about the topics discussed in his private meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, while again downplaying his infamous fist bump with the prince.
Early on Sunday, Biden arrived back at the White House from his four-day Middle East tour, and briefly took questions from reporters gathered on the South Lawn.
Hours earlier, just after Air Force One had taken off from Jeddah, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir called a Fox News reporter and claimed that he ‘did not hear’ Biden confront bin Salman, known as MBS, over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Al-Jubeir’s claim seems to directly contradict Biden’s account of the meeting with MBS on Friday, after which the president said that he had raised Khashoggi’s murder ‘at the top of the meeting’ and accused the crown prince of directing the plot.
On the South Lawn, when asked if al-Jubeir was telling the truth about the meeting, Biden bluntly replied ‘No’.
President Joe Biden has accused Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister of lying about the topics discussed in his private meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir (above) claimed that he ‘did not hear’ Biden confront MBS over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Notably, Saudi officials have offered conflicting accounts of the conversation between Biden and MBS, and whether Khashoggi’s murder was discussed.
On Friday, Saudi Foreign Minster Faisal bin Farhan seemed to tell reporters that Biden did raise Khashoggi’s murder at the meeting.
Bin Farhan said that MBS responded by slamming the US over its own abuses of human rights, including the notorious mistreatment of prisoners by military personnel at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
Returning to the White House on Sunday, Biden also responded dismissively when asked whether he regrets his now infamous fist bump with MBS, saying: ‘Why don’t you guys talk about something that matters? I’m happy to answer a question that matters.’
It came after the president laughed when questioned about criticism of the fist bump by a DailyMail.com reporter at a Friday press conference.
Nevertheless, the fist bump has become the defining image of Biden’s Mideast tour, appearing on the front page of the Washington Post, where Khashoggi penned columns critical of Saudi leadership.
The image of the friendly fist bump drew harsh backlash from the publisher of the Washington Post and the widow of Khashoggi, who was killed in a gruesome assassination that US intelligence services say bin Salman ordered.
A handout photo of President Joe Biden (left) fist-bumping Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right) as he arrived for a meeting with the controversial royal Friday evening in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
On Friday, Biden had insisted that he brought up Khashoggi’s murder in his meeting with MBS, which was closed to the press.
‘In 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,’ Biden told reporters from a Jeddah hotel after his meetings with the Saudis. ‘I was straightforward and direct … I made my view crystal clear.’
‘What happened to Khashoggi was outrageous,’ Biden later offered.
Biden told reporters that MBS ‘basically said he was not personally responsible’ for the gruesome killing that took place in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
‘I indicated I thought he was,’ Biden continued. ‘He said he was not personally responsible for it and he took action against those who were responsible.’
An American intelligence report said MBS directed the assassination of Khashoggi, a Saudi-born critic of the kingdom, who was living in the United States.
President Joe Biden arrives at Andrews Air Force Base, at the conclusion of a trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia late on Saturday
Biden disembarks Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base after his Mideast tour
Biden takes reporters’ questions on the south lawn of the White House. Biden just returned from visiting Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
After Biden fist-bumped MBS as he arrived for a series of Friday night meetings at the Al Salman Royal Palace in Jeddah, Fred Ryan, the publisher and CEO of The Washington Post – which employed Khashoggi – called Biden’s fist bump with the crown prince ‘shameful.’
‘The fist bump between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman was worse than a handshake – it was shameful,’ Ryan said in a statement. ‘It projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.’
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, shared what she believed her late love’s reaction would be to the fist bump: ‘Is this the accountability you promised for my murder? The blood of MBS’s next victims is on your hands.’
Biden was also read Cengiz’s comments by a reporter, who then asked for the president’s response.
‘I’m sorry she feels that way,’ the president answered. ‘I was straightforward back then. I was straightforward today.’