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Biden says he raised Khashoggi murder in meeting with Saudi crown prince

The president met with the crown prince shortly after arriving in Saudi Arabia for a controversial sit-down he had earlier said would not take place.

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — President Joe Biden said on Friday he had raised the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier in the day, and made it clear the U.S. would continue to speak out against human rights abuses.

“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. I’ll always stand up for our values,” Biden told reporters following the meeting with the crown prince, who the U.S. intelligence community concluded was behind the murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, calling the killing “outrageous.”

“I just made it clear, if anything occurs like that again they’ll get that response and much more,” he said.

Biden said the crown prince responded by saying he was not personally responsible for the murder and that action was taken against those who were responsible. Biden said he told the crown prince he disagreed with the claim that the crown prince wasn't responsible.

Biden met with the crown prince shortly after arriving in Saudi Arabia, a controversial sit-down he had earlier insisted would not take place.

The crown prince greeted Biden as he arrived at the royal palace where the two leaders exchanged a fist bump but no handshake.

Biden has alternated between handshakes and fist bumps throughout the four days of his Middle East swing after the White House said he would “minimize contact” during the trip as a Covid precaution.

Ahead of the meeting with the crown prince, Biden met one-on-one with the prince's father, King Salman, during which the two shared a lengthy handshake.

The president had sought to distance himself ahead of the trip from the crown prince, who the U.S. intelligence community concluded was behind the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

When asked in June if he would be meeting with bin Salman, who is also widely referred to as MBS, Biden told reporters he would not. “I’m not going to meet with MBS," he said then. "I’m going to an international meeting, and he’s going to be part of it." 

Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, tweeted a picture of the fist bump, sharply criticizing Biden: “What Jamal Khashoggi would tweet today, 'Is this the accountability you promised for my murder? The blood of MBS’s next victims is on your hands.'"

As the de facto leader of the deeply conservative kingdom, the crown prince is central to Biden’s wider foreign policy agenda of countering the growing nuclear threat from Iran, improving relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and increasing global oil production. White House officials have said that Biden is looking to “recalibrate, not rupture” relations with Saudi Arabia. 

Biden indicated the Saudis would be taking further steps soon to ensure "adequate oil supplies to support global economic growth." He didn't elaborate on whether that would mean they would be significantly increasing production, and it is unclear how much additional oil production capacity the Saudis have.

"I’m doing all I can to increase the supply for the United States of America, which I expect to happen," Biden said.

The meeting with the crown prince seemingly represented a retreat from Biden's vow during the campaign to punish Saudi Arabia for the killing of Khashoggi — to “make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are.” 

Biden arrived in Saudi Arabia, where he will also attend a summit of Gulf leaders Saturday, after nearly three days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials. 

In a small step toward normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Saudi officials announced Friday that they would open the country's air space to all commercial airlines, including those traveling to and from Israel.

Biden said he also discussed with the crown prince efforts to extend the Yemen ceasefire, Saudi Arabia's "security needs" to defend against threats from Iran, and an investment in U.S. technology to develop 5G and 6G communications networks.

CORRECTION (June 15, 2022, 11:00 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated that Biden's flight on Friday was the first by a sitting U.S. president between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The White House said that it was the first flight by a president between Israel and the city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, not all of Saudi Arabia.