In the most fraught foreign visit of his presidency to date, Mr. Biden’s encounter with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave the de facto Saudi leader a measure of the international rehabilitation he sought, while securing steps toward closer relations with Israel and an unannounced understanding that the kingdom would soon pump more oil to relieve high gas prices at home.
Mr. Biden’s discomfort was palpable as he avoided a handshake with the prince in favor of a fist bump that in the end proved no less problematic politically. While cameras recorded the opening of their subsequent meeting, the president made no mention of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist assassinated in 2018 by Saudi operatives, and the prince smiled silently when a reporter asked if he owed an apology to the family.
But Mr. Biden later told reporters Mr. Khashoggi’s murder was “outrageous” and said he had confronted the crown prince privately. “I raised it at the top of the meeting, making clear what I thought at the time and what I think of it now,” he said. “I was straightforward and direct in discussing it. I made my view crystal clear.”
He reported that Prince Mohammed, often known by his initials M.B.S., had denied culpability. “He basically said that he was not personally responsible for it,” Mr. Biden said. “I indicated that I thought he was.”
Saudi officials contradicted his account. Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, told reporters that he did not hear Mr. Biden tell the crown prince that he was responsible, describing instead a brief and less contentious exchange that focused on human rights without dwelling on the killing.
Mr. Jubeir called the Khashoggi murder “a terrible mistake,” but added that the two countries have moved on and he showed no interest in looking back. “People were put on trial,” he said, referring to underlings convicted in the case. “We have individuals who are paying the price.”
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