President Biden greeted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump instead of a handshake, a COVID-19 precaution for the 79-year-old president that also avoided a photo of him shaking hands with a man the U.S. says is responsible for a journalist’s murder.
The two leaders greeted each other Friday in Jeddah ahead of Mr. Biden’s bilateral with the crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, and his dad King Salman.
Mr. Biden and Crown Prince Mohammed did not speak to the press as they entered the Al Salam Royal Palace.
In the days leading up to the meeting, the White House was coy about details of the expected interaction between Mr. Biden and Crown Prince Mohammed.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and NSC spokesman John Kirby dodged questions about a possible handshake between Mr. Biden and the crown prince.
“In terms of the precise modalities, I’ll leave that to the folks who are actually organizing the trip,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters.
Since arriving in the Middle East earlier this week, Mr. Biden has been greeting foreign leaders with a first bump, which set the stage for him to avoid the handshake photo in Jeddah.
However, Mr. Biden was photographed with extended handshakes with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Israeli Premier Naftali Bennett.
Still, the friendly first bump between Mr. Biden and Crown Prince Mohammed gives the Saudi leader the photo opportunity that could lend more legitimacy to his rule amid alleged human rights abuses in the kingdom.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Mr. Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” after U.S. intelligence concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed orchestrated the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and outspoken critic of the Saudi government.
Since those comments, Mr. Biden has found himself in an uncomfortable position of needing an alliance with the Saudis. He wants a commitment from Saudi Arabia to pump more oil as record-high gasoline prices continue to drag down both the U.S. economy and his poll numbers.
Mr. Biden also needs the kingdom to help further integrate Israel into the region, finalize a tenuous cease-fire between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and get their support for a stalled nuclear deal with Iran.