Biden accuses Saudi officials of lying after claims they ‘didn’t hear’ him confront MBS over Khashoggi murder

·4 min read

President Joe Biden has accused Saudi officials of lying after they claimed they “didn’t hear” him bring up the murder of US citizen and journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told aFox News reporter on Saturday that he wasn’t aware of Mr Biden confronting the crown prince, known as MBS, over his role in Khashoggi’s 2018 execution.

“I didn’t hear that particular phrase,” the Saudi minister said.

When Mr Biden landed back at the White House on Saturday night, he was asked if the official was telling the truth.

“The Saudi foreign minister says he didn’t hear you accuse the crown prince of Khashoggi’s murder. Is he telling the truth?” asked a White House reporter.

Mr Biden firmly responded: “No.”

Saudi officials have given conflicting accounts about the closed-door meeting between Mr Biden and MBS in Saudi Arabia on Friday.

Immediately after the controversial meeting, Mr Biden told reporters that he had confronted the crown prince about his role in Khashoggi’s “outrageous” murder and that it was the first issue he raised during their conversation.

“With respect to the murder of Khashoggi, I raised it at the top of the meeting, making clear what I thought of it at the time, and what I think of it now,” he said.

“I made my view crystal clear... for an American president to be silent on an issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and with who I am.”

At first, Saudi officials appeared to confirm the remarks.

Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan told reporters on Friday that Mr Biden had raised the journalist’s murder and MBS had fired back with comments on America’s own controversies.

The crown prince brought up the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and incidents where US soldiers abused prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib detention centre, telling Mr Biden that the two incidents reflected badly on the US, the foreign minister said.

However on Saturday, Mr al-Jubeir appeared to contradict this account, disputing that Mr Khashoggi was even discussed at all.

Mr Khashoggi – a Washington Post journalist and outspoken critic of the Saudi government – was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a team of intelligence operatives with ties to MBS on 2 October 2018. His body was brutally dismembered with a bone saw.

President Biden disputes comments made by Saudi officials as he lands back at the White House on Saturday night (Getty Images)
President Biden disputes comments made by Saudi officials as he lands back at the White House on Saturday night (Getty Images)

The Saudi government initially denied any involvement in the killing before going on to claim that the operatives killed the US citizen accidentally while trying to extradite him to Saudi Arabia.

US intelligence agencies later concluded that MBS had ordered the hit.

The Biden administration has been forced to defend the president’s meeting with MBS particularly given that, during his 2020 White House campaign, he had vowed to make a “pariah” of Saudi Arabia.

The president sparked further backlash when he greeted MBS with a fist-bump at the start of Friday’s meeting.

Mr Biden fired back at reporters when asked if he regretted the seemingly friendly greeting as he landed on the south lawn of the White House late on Saturday.

“Why don’t you guys talk about something that matters? I’m happy to answer a question that matters,” Mr Biden responded.

Mr bin Farhan described the fist-bump between the two leaders as “a win” for the US president.

The Saudi foreign minister told CNN on Saturday that it was “quite normal” that the two leaders had exchanged “pleasantries”, saying “I don’t know why we’re hung up on a fist bump”.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaking to US President Joe Biden during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit on Saturday (Saudi Royal Palace/AFP via Getty)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaking to US President Joe Biden during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit on Saturday (Saudi Royal Palace/AFP via Getty)

“I see the image as a win for President Biden. He got out of it a meeting with a key leader in the region,” he said.

“He got out of it, I think, reinvigoration of the strategic partnership between Saudi Arabia and the United States.”

Mr Biden met with several Middle East leaders during his four-day trip to the region which was aimed in part at reaching agreements with oil-rich nations and, ultimately, easing the pain on Americans caused by current sky-high gas prices.

But the trip was rocked by further controversy when it emerged that American lawyer Asim Ghafoor, who had previously defended Mr Khashoggi, was detained as he travelled through Dubai airport on Thursday.

UAE state media said on Saturday that he had been sentenced to three years in prison in the UAE for tax evasion and money laundering.

Human rights group DAWN said that Mr Ghafoor did not know of any in absentia charges or conviction prior to his sudden arrest.

The US State Department said it is aware of his detention.