Analysts worldwide have honed in on an ‘icy’ first meeting between US President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman.
US President Joe Biden offered a fist bump to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday, as the American leader landed in the kingdom during the first official trip to the region.
Saudi state television showed the pair quickly bump fists before the US president was ushered into the presidential palace to meet the ailing King Salman.
The much anticipated meeting between MbS and Biden has been a hot topic on the global stage due to the latter’s criticism of the crown prince for his role in orchestrating the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
During his presidential campaign, Biden had vowed to make the kingdom a “pariah state”, but analysts say he has now appeared to backtrack on that stance.
“Not quite a chummy handshake, but nonetheless quite the admission of failure for the Biden administration’s Saudi policy,” Middle East correspondent for The Economist, Gregg Carlstrom said on Twitter.
Biden has faced ongoing pressure both at home and on a global stage in the lead up to the meeting in Saudi Arabia, with rights organisations urging him to use the Middle East tour to highlight key rights issues in both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Experts believe the need for the US president to write an op-ed in the Washington Post before travelling to Saudi Arabia is indicative of the extent of “pressure the US administration is domestically.”
“Bipartisan lobbying in Washington for the president to honour his campaign promise to ostracise the Saudi Crown Prince for his involvement in the murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, remain firm,” Dr. Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London wrote in an op-ed on Doha News.
While the White House earlier suggested reduced contact between the president and officials during the Middle East tour due to Covid-19 concerns, he was pictured shaking hands with various leaders in Tel Aviv.
Biden arrived in Saudi Arabia on Friday, aboard the first of many direct flights from Israel to the kingdom, just hours after Riyadh announced the opening of its airspace to Israel.
The US president was received by the governor of Mecca, Prince Khaled Al Faisal as well as Riyadh’s ambassador to Washington, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud. Notably, Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler MbS was not at the airport to welcome the American leader.
Saudi Arabia has appeared to transform its status, from Washington’s perspective, from having “no redeeming social value” to being a “strategic partner” of the US, as Biden scrambles for energy securement amid drastically surging oil prices.
The spike in prices have partially pushed US’ inflation to a four-decade high of 9.1% in June, ahead of the midterm elections in November.
Biden will also attend a summit of Gulf allies in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on Saturday.
The US president is expected to meet with leaders of the GCC bloc, including Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, as confirmed by Qatar News Agency.
Iraq, Egypt and Jordan have been confirmed as the three non-GCC states to also attend the summit.