'Awful and pretty indefensible': Critics condemn Joe Biden's upcoming meeting with Saudi Crown Prince

'Awful and pretty indefensible': Critics condemn Joe Biden's upcoming meeting with Saudi Crown Prince
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Image credit: U.S. Department of State).

U.S. President Joe Biden faced a firestorm of criticism Tuesday after the White House confirmed he will visit Saudi Arabia next month and is expected to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Concerns have mounted in recent weeks in response to reporting during the planning stage of Biden's mid-July trip, given the kingdom's human rights record and the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—which U.S. intelligence officials concluded was approved by the crown prince, or MBS.

National Iranian American Council research director Assal Rad highlighted Biden's own comments after the White House announced that from July 13 to July 16, the president will visit Israel, the West Bank, and Saudi Arabia:

"The Saudi regime had a Washington Post journalist murdered and dismembered in an embassy," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, referring to Khashoggi.

"Just a few weeks ago, Israeli forces killed an American journalist in what CNN said was a targeted killing," Jaffer added of Shireen Abu Akleh. "The Biden [administration] should be sanctioning these countries, not rewarding them."

"What message is the Biden [administration] sending about press freedom if even the deliberate killing of American journalists is so quickly forgotten and forgiven?" he asked.

Matt Duss, a foreign policy adviser to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), declared that "the U.S.-Saudi rapprochement is premised on the idea that the security and prosperity of the American people requires consigning the people of the Middle East to a future of repression. I absolutely reject that."

Duss said earlier this month that "if anyone can explain to me how this reflects the administration's previously stated commitment to 'a world in which human rights are protected, their defenders are celebrated, and those who commit human rights abuses are held accountable,' I'd love to hear it."

CodePink similarly said Tuesday that "Saudi Arabia is one of the worst countries for journalists, women, LGBTQ+ people, and migrant workers. But sure, the Biden administration is totally concerned with human rights."

"Tomorrow in D.C., we'll be honoring Jamal Khashoggi, just one of the many victims of... Saudi Arabia's government," the anti-war group added. "We hope Biden will honor him as well by canceling this trip."

As Common Dreams reported last week, 13 human rights groups wrote to Biden that he should not meet MBS without securing "tangible progress to alleviate some of the most egregious rights violations" committed by the kingdom.

During a call with reporters late Monday, a senior Biden official claimed that "human rights is always a part of the conversation in our foreign engagements" and highlighted the administration's February 2021 release of a declassified intelligence report about Khashoggi's murder.

"I think it's very important also, though, of course, to emphasize, as we did then, that while we recalibrate relations, we're not seeking to rupture relations, because Saudi Arabia has been a strategic partner of the United States for eight decades," the official added, specifically noting Biden's stated aim to end the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

During his trip to Jeddah, Biden is scheduled to attend a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council—made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—plus Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan.

"The president will also hold bilateral meetings with the Saudi hosts and other counterparts" to discuss regional and global issues, including the ongoing U.N.-mediated truce in Yemen, the Biden official told reporters, confirming he is expected to meet with MBS, who "played a critical role in securing the extension of the truce—that was in place since April—just last week."

Though Biden last year announced an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition's "offensive operations" in Yemen, he has been blasted for continuing to allow arms sales and maintenance.

A report on the coalition's assault of Yemen revealed last week that "a substantial portion of the air raids were carried out by jets developed, maintained, and sold by U.S. companies, and by pilots who were trained by the U.S. military," bolstering support for a War Powers Resolution in Congress to end "unauthorized" United States involvement in the war.

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