President Biden addressed the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi security officials with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said during their meeting Friday that he is “not personally responsible” for his death.
In a press availability following meetings with the crown prince and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Said, Biden said he discussed human rights issues, including Khashoggi’s death.
“He basically said that he was not personally responsible for it,” Biden said of MBS. “I indicated that he was, and he said he was not personally responsible for it and he took action against those who were responsible.”
Khashoggi was a contributor for the Washington Post and was killed in 2018 by Saudi security officials, but MBS had been suspected to be involved.
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Biden said he then went on to “talk more about how that dealing with any opposition to the criticism of the Saudi administration in other countries was viewed as, to me, a violation of human rights.”
Biden, during a Democratic presidential primary debate in 2019, promised to make the kingdom a global “pariah” due to its mistreatment of human beings, violations of international law and open hostility to the U.S. — including the killing of Khashoggi.
When asked if he regrets calling the Saudis a pariah, the president said: “I don’t regret anything.”
“Do I regret it? I don’t regret anything that I said,” Biden added.
Khashoggi’s widow, Hanan Elatr Khashoggi, met with White House officials last week.
The president, who was criticized Friday for giving MBS a fist bump upon arrival to the Al Salam Royal Palace, was also asked how he can be sure another murder, like Khashoggi’s, does not take place.
“God love you. What a silly question,” Biden said. “How could I possibly be sure of any of that?”
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The president stressed, though, that he “just made it clear if anything occurs like that again” there will be a “response and much more.”
“Look, you’ve heard me say before, and when I criticize Xi Jinping, for slave labor and what they’re doing…in the western mountains of China, and he said, I had no right to criticize China, and I said, look, I’m president of the United States of America,” Biden said. “And 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.”
Biden added: “And so I’m not being silent. Can I predict anything is going to happen, let alone here, let alone any other part of the world? No. But I don’t know why you’re all so surprised the way I react. No one’s ever wondered. I mean what I say. The question is, I sometimes say all that I mean.”
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, during a gaggle Friday before Biden’s meetings, said the president would spend time speaking publicly on the issue of human rights during the trip, and would “have a conversation on fundamental issues of human rights in Saudi Arabia.”