President Joe Biden defended his meeting with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday, attempting to reassure critics that he brought up the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi during the meeting.
“I raised it at the top of the meeting making it clear what I thought about it at the time and what I think of it now,” Biden said.
The president commented on his discussion of Khashoggi during remarks with reporters after the meetings, insisting he was direct with the Saudis.
“I was straightforward and direct when discussing it,” Biden said. “I made my view crystal clear. I said very straightforwardly. For an American president to be silent on an issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am.”
“What happened to Khashoggi was outrageous,” he added.
Biden said the crown prince told him he was not responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
“He basically said he was not personally responsible for it, I indicated I thought he was,” he said. “I indicated he probably was. He said he was not personally responsible for it and he took action against those who were responsible.”
Biden said he continued the conversation by telling the crown prince that murdering dissidents of the Saudi Arabian government was “viewed as to me a violation of human rights.”
The president tried to defend his meetings with the Saudis, despite vowing to treat them as a “pariah” during his presidential campaign.
“I did not come here to meet with the crown prince,” Biden said, after fist-bumping Salman when he arrived at the palace.
Biden argued he accomplished “significant business” during his meetings with Saudi officials, including increasing the likelihood of the Saudis increasing oil production.
“We had a good discussion on ensuring global energy security and adequate oil supplies to support global economic growth and that will begin shortly,” Biden said, adding he expected future announcements from the Saudis on oil production within weeks.
Despite Biden’s effort to promote his meetings as a success, some prominent Saudis mocked him as “diminished.”
“President Biden, in my view, he’s coming as a much-diminished president than when he was first elected,” said Saudi Arabian Prince Turki Al-Faisal in an interview with CNBC.
Biden has repeatedly explained to foreign leaders that his stance on human rights is part of the American culture, even acknowledging that other countries have “different norms”
When questioned about his sincerity on the issue of human rights, Biden recalled he also spoke to Chinese dictator Xi Jinping about slave labor in Xinjiang.
“I said look, I’m the president of the United States of America, for the United States president to remain silent on a clear violation of human rights is totally inconsistent with who we are what we are and what we would do what we believe,” he said.
Biden has previously cited his private conversations with Xi as part of an understanding he has with the Chinese dictator on the issue of human rights.
“So, the idea that I’m not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uighurs in Western Mountains of China, and Taiwan, trying to end the one-China policy by making it forceful,” he said during a 2021 town hall with CNN. “I said, and he gets it, culturally there are different norms in each country, and their leaders are expected to follow.”