President Joe Biden’s fist bump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman drew backlash from Democrats and Republicans, including from a Utah senator who suggested the president should visit the Beehive State’s oil region instead.
Biden avoided shaking hands with the de facto Saudi ruler who reportedly approved the 2018 assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But arriving at Al-Salam Royal Palace last Friday with an outstretched fist for meetings with bin Salman and his father, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, didn’t go over well.
There was much speculation about how Biden would greet the prince after vowing in his 2020 presidential campaign to treat the country as a “pariah,” due to a long string of human rights abuses and Khashoggi’s murder, according to NPR.
Criticism over the fist bump hit Biden from several directions.
“The fist bump between President Biden and Mohammad bin Salman was worse than a handshake — it was shameful,” Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan said in a statement. “It projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.”
The kingdom’s state media captured video of the interaction, and the Saudi Arabian government quickly distributed images of it across social media platforms, NPR reported.
“Instead of touring the Middle East and greeting the Crown Prince with a fist bump, @POTUS should visit the Basin to congratulate the Utahns who will be using the Uinta Basin Railway to secure domestic energy independence,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, tweeted.
The U.S. Forest Service last week signed off on the last piece of land needed to build a new 88-mile railroad line beginning just north of Price and going toward the Uintah Basin in eastern Utah. The railway would be used to transport crude oil, coal, agricultural products and other goods.
Lee has criticized Biden looking to the Middle East for oil and standing in the way of increased American production.
Democrats also blasted Biden for meeting with bin Salman.
“If we ever needed a visual reminder of the continuing grip oil-rich autocrats have on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, we got it today,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., tweeted. “One fist bump is worth a thousand words.”
Biden chuckled when a reporter mentioned that his interaction with the crown prince had come under fire, according to Politico. Asked by the same reporter whether he can be sure a murder like Khashoggi’s won’t happen again, Biden said, “God love you. What a silly question. How can I possibly be sure of any of that?”
At a news conference after a meeting with bin Salman, Biden said the prince claimed that he was “not personally responsible” for Khashoggi’s death. “I indicated I thought he was,” the president said he replied.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that bin Salman directed the killing of Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post and an outspoken critic of the Saudi regime.