(The Hill) — President Joe Biden greeted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump on Friday ahead of the controversial face-to-face meeting between the two men in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Footage displayed on Saudi state television showed Biden emerging from his limo and fist-bumping the crown prince, who is known by his initials MBS, before the two entered Al Salam Royal Palace.
Biden is meeting there privately with King Salman of Saudi Arabia. He is scheduled to meet later with MBS and Saudi ministers, which will be partially open to press.
There had been questions leading up to the meeting Friday about how Biden would greet the crown prince, whom Biden previously condemned on the campaign trail over the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The White House said the president would “minimize contact” with other officials on the multi-day trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, citing the spread of COVID-19 variants. But that policy led to speculation that Biden would use it as an excuse to avoid shaking hands with MBS.
On his stops in Israel, Biden greeted some officials with fist bumps and others with handshakes.
The meeting between Biden and MBS has been intensely controversial due to the U.S. intelligence community assessment that the crown prince approved the assassination of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
While campaigning for president in 2020, Biden pledged to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over Khashoggi’s murder. The president took a cooler approach to the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia during his first year in office than his predecessor, Donald Trump.
The White House announced plans for Biden’s Middle East trip, including a stop in Saudi Arabia, earlier this year amid domestic pressure over high gas prices.
Biden is expected to discuss energy security in his meetings with the Saudis, though the White House has signaled there will not be an immediate announcement on boosting oil production on the trip.
The White House also described the trip as an effort by Biden to reassert U.S. presence in the Middle East, at a time of rising threats from Russia and China. Biden sought to usher in warmer ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, seeing some success as he became the first U.S. president to fly directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia on Friday. He is also seeking cooperation on threats from Iran.
Biden was greeted at the airport by the governor of Makkah, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., and consular officials. The greeting paled in comparison to the elaborate reception given to Trump, who made his first foreign trip as president to Saudi Arabia.