Jul 16, 2022 - World

Confronted by Biden on Khashoggi killing, MBS pointed to U.S. "mistakes"

Biden fist bumps Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Royal Court of Saudi Arabia /Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
President Biden fist bumps Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Royal Court of Saudi Arabia /Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pushed back on President Biden's criticism over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by raising the abuse suffered by prisoners of the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. response to the May killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a Saudi official told Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya.

Why it matters: The murder of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was the most sensitive issue discussed in Biden's meeting with MBS on Friday.

  • U.S. intelligence concluded MBS was responsible for Khashoggi's murder — an allegation Saudi officials deny.
  • Biden once vowed to make the Gulf kingdom a "pariah," and U.S.-Saudi relations have been strained over a number of issues, including the murder of Khashoggi.

Behind the scenes: In a press conference on Friday, Biden said he opened his meeting with MBS by bringing up Khashoggi's murder. He said he told the crown prince "very straightforwardly" that "for an American president to be silent on the issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am."

  • Asked how MBS responded, Biden told reporters: "He basically said that he was not personally responsible for it. I indicated I thought he was."
  • Biden's meeting with MBS came not long after the U.S. president first bumped the crown prince — drawing criticism from Democrats and others.

The other side: The Saudi official confirmed to Al-Arabiya on Saturday that Biden raised the murder of Khashoggi at the start of the meeting.

  • According to the Saudi official, the crown prince pushed back on Biden's criticism and said the U.S. made many "mistakes" of its own in Iraq with the Abu Ghraib prison — the detention center that became the center of a torture and abuse scandal during the U.S. occupation.
  • The Saudi official said MBS then raised the case of Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. "What did the U.S. and other countries in the world do about her?" MBS asked, per the official.
  • Biden in the West Bank on Friday said the U.S. will continue to "insist on a full and transparent accounting" of Abu Akleh's murder. The U.S. has said it was likely the veteran Al Jazeera journalist was killed by unintentional Israeli fire.

MBS told Biden that what happened to Khashoggi was "regrettable" and that Saudi Arabia took all the legal steps including an investigation, indictments and conviction, per Al-Arabiya.

  • The Saudi official added that MBS told Biden the kingdom took steps that will prevent such mistakes from happening again.
  • MBS told Biden that different countries have different values and if the U.S. only has alliances with countries that share all its values, it will be left only with NATO countries, the Saudi official told Al-Arabiya.
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