President Joe Biden continued his trip to the Middle East with visits to the West Bank and Saudi Arabia. Friday’s visits came before a roundtable with several Saudi Arabian leaders that is set for Saturday. On Friday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greeted President Biden with a fist bump at a royal palace as the two leaders met for the first time. The brief encounter, which was captured by Saudi television, occurred as Biden stepped out of his presidential limousine.
Biden was scheduled to sit down with King Salman, the crown prince’s father, before participating in a broader meeting with Prince Mohammed and other advisers. There’s been considerable speculation about both the choreography and the substance of how Biden, who had vowed as a presidential candidate to treat the Saudis as a “pariah” for their human rights record, would go about interacting with the crown prince.
“My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear. And I have never been quiet about talking about human rights,” Biden has said. “The reason I’m going to Saudi Arabia, though, is much broader. It’s to promote U.S. interests—promote U.S. interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity to reassert what I think we made a mistake of walking away from: our influence in the Middle East.”
Attendees to Saturday’s roundtable include leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—as well as leaders from Mideast neighbors Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
The Saudi Arabia visit is one of the most delicate that Biden has faced on the international stage. Any kind of respectful greeting that Biden can manage, and the Saudi crown prince can reflect back, might help both sides soothe relations.
“There must be a political horizon that the Palestinian people can actually see or at least feel. We cannot allow the hopelessness to steal away the future that so many have worked toward for so long,” Biden said. “So even if the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations, the United States and my administration will not give up on trying to bring the Palestinians and Israelis and both sides closer together.”
Before his Saudi arrival, Biden visit the Israeli-occupied West Bank, offering compassion and financial assistance for Palestinians while acknowledging that peace may be far off.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.