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Biden fist-bumps Saudi crown prince, then raises attacks on dissidents

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US President Joe Biden said Friday he had confronted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over attacks on dissidents during his visit to Saudi Arabia, a country he once vowed to make a “pariah” over its human rights abuses.

Prince Mohammed drew global outrage for the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, an operation US intelligence services said he “approved”.

“What happened to Khashoggi was outrageous,” Biden said Friday night after a meeting with Prince Mohammed in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

But Biden did not specify what exactly he meant by “that response”, and earlier in the day he greeted Prince Mohammed, known as MBS, with a fist bump.

Despite his earlier condemnations of Saudi human rights abuses, Biden now appears ready to re-engage with the kingdom — a key strategic US ally, a major supplier of oil and an avid buyer of weapons.

Yet Biden also tried to tamp down expectations that this week’s visit to the Middle East would yield immediate gains.

– Israeli ties –

Biden arrived in Saudi Arabia after a stop in Israel, becoming the first US leader to fly directly from Tel Aviv to an Arab nation that does not recognise Israel.

Riyadh has repeatedly said it would stick to the decades-old Arab League position of not establishing official ties with Israel until the conflict with the Palestinians is resolved.

Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid also praised the decision.

The White House announced Friday that peacekeepers including US soldiers would leave the strategic Red Sea island of Tiran, located near Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

– ‘Political horizon’ in Bethlehem –

With Palestinians banned by Israel from political activity in Jerusalem, the US president travelled to Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank to meet Abbas.

There “must be a political horizon that the Palestinian people can actually see”, Biden said.

Abbas said he was “taking steps” to improve relations with Washington and aimed to see the US consulate to Palestinians in Jerusalem — which Trump closed — reopen.

With Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations moribund since 2014, the US delegation has been focusing on economic measures.

Biden was greeted in Bethlehem with a billboard reading “Justice for Shireen”, referring to Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian-American journalist shot dead in May while covering an Israeli army raid in the West Bank.

“I think if President Biden (can) find an hour and a half to go and attend a sport activity, he should have respected the family and given them 10 minutes to listen to them,” said Samer Sinijlawi, chairman of a Palestinian nonprofit, the Jerusalem Development Fund, after Biden on Thursday attended a ceremony for Jewish athletes.

Washington earlier this month concluded she was likely shot from an Israeli military position, but that there was no evidence of intent to kill.

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Article source: The Australian | AFP |July 16, 2022

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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