U.S. President Joe Biden, who visited Saudi Arabia, warned Riyadh of a “response” in the event of new attacks on dissidents, following a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is considered by Washington to be sponsoring the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Air Force One landed in Jeddah, western Saudi Arabia, after a direct flight from Israel, the first as Washington seeks to normalize relations between its two main partners in the Middle East.
Joe Biden was greeted at the Royal Palace in Jeddah by Mohammed bin Salman, nicknamed MBS, who made a “check” with the young and powerful 36-year-old de facto ruler of the Saudi empire.
In Jeddah, Joe Biden also met King Salman, ill and 86 years old, before a “working session” led by Prince Mohammed, essential in all matters, from oil to the military.
The meeting between Mr Biden and bin Salman is the highlight of this Middle East tour as Washington seeks to convince the kingdom to open the floodgates for its oil production. The challenge: to lower the price of a gallon of gasoline as midterm elections in the United States approach.
But while still a candidate, Joe Biden promised to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah,” especially because of the assassination of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. By the time he was elected, he had declassified a condemning report. about the prince’s responsibility in this murder.
In Jeddah, Joe Biden said he had warned Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince of a “response” from him if further attacks on dissidents were to take place, calling the killing of Khashoggi a “scandal”.
“I just made it clear that if something like this happens again, they will have this answer and more,” he told reporters, saying he took up the matter “at the very beginning” of the MBS meeting. .
The Saudi authorities have always denied direct responsibility for the Crown Prince in this assassination.
– “Blood on your hands” –
The journalist’s widow, Hatice Cengiz, posted a tweet with a screenshot of her deceased husband’s account: “Is it like that, demand as promised responsibility for my murder?”
“The blood from MBS’s next victim is on your hands,” it added, along with a picture of the first check Mr Biden gave the Saudi prince.
Joe Biden’s visit was particularly criticized by human rights defenders, in which the powerful Gulf monarchy was accused of serious violations and violent repression of its opponents.
Far from human rights issues, among the purposes of Joe Biden’s tour are attempts to bring Saudi Arabia and Israelis closer together.
During his speech in Jeddah, Joe Biden announced that international peacekeeping forces, including US troops, will leave Tiran, one of the two strategic islands, with Sanafir, located in the Red Sea, between Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The departure of this force, which has been installed for 40 years, is to take place “by the end of the year,” the White House said in a document after Israel indicated it had “no objection” to the transfer from the two islands of Egypt to Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, Ryad, for its part, announced the opening of its airspace to “all airlines,” including Israeli, a “historic” decision for Joe Biden.
Arab-American Summit –
According to analysts, these two initiatives could pave the way for a possible rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, a country that in particular normalized its relations in 2020 with two other Gulf countries: the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The Saudi announcement came before Mr. Biden’s unprecedented direct Tel Aviv / Jeddah (west) flight, the first of its kind from Israel to Saudi Arabia, which does not officially recognize the Jewish state. His predecessor, Donald Trump, flew in the opposite direction from Saudi Arabia to Israel.
On Saturday, Mr Biden will attend a summit of leaders of the Arab monarchies in the Gulf, which was also attended by other Arab leaders who began arriving on Saturday night.
An opportunity to push on the normalization that Israel initiated with several Arab countries, especially with the aim of facing Iran.
However, Ryad calls for the establishment of official relations with the Jewish state for a solution to the Palestinian question, which regularly condemns the occupation and colonization of the Palestinian territories.
Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, Joe Biden announced $ 100 million in aid to the hospital network in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian part of the Holy City occupied by Israel.
He then met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem in the West Bank, Palestinian territory occupied by Israel.