Biden Saudi trip with fist bump for crown prince, handshake for king

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA  – Joe Biden began a visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday (July 15) by giving Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a fist bump and shaking hands with King Salman as Washington looks to reset its relationship with a country that the US president once pledged to make a “pariah” on the global stage.

Energy and security interests prompted Biden and his aides to decide not to isolate the Gulf oil giant that has been strengthening ties with Russia and China.

But the US national security adviser dampened expectations of any immediate oil supply boost to help bring down high costs of gasoline and ease the highest US inflation in four decades.

Biden, who said he would discuss human rights during the visit, was met by Prince Khalid al-Faisal, the governor of Mecca province, which includes the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

The US president then headed to the royal palace where Saudi TV showed him fist-bumping the crown prince, known as MbS.

State news agency SPA later published a photo of Biden shaking hands with King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The visit is being closely watched for body language and rhetoric. Biden made his “pariah” comment less than two years ago over the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic, by Saudi agents.

At the start of Biden’s Middle East trip, officials said he would avoid close contacts, such as shaking hands, as a precaution against Covid-19. But the president ended up engaging in hand-shaking during the Israel leg of the tour.

After meeting the king, Biden and his team entered a conference room for a working session with the crown prince and Saudi ministers. “Welcome to Saudi Arabia,” MbS told Biden.

When opening statements were completed, several US reporters shouted questions about Khashoggi at the crown prince.

“Will you apologise to his family?” one shouted.

MbS, with the Saudi energy minister seated beside him, did not respond and appeared to smile slightly as the reporters were led from the room.

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