President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave a fist bump in an effort to patch up their strained relationship, but the American leader left the country on Saturday feeling unfulfilled and with questions about whether the trip was worthwhile.
In his first trip to the Middle East as president, Biden spent four days in Israel and Saudi Arabia with the goal of reestablishing relations with the Gulf Arab oil superpower, demonstrating American commitment to the area, and fending off the growing influence of Iran, Russia, and China.
The Saudi portion, however, was marred by awkward optics as Biden avoided seeming to embrace a crown prince who was allegedly responsible for the gruesome killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018; Saudi Arabia denies this accusation.
According to Biden, he confronted Prince Mohammed, also known as MbS, about the murder. MbS didn’t budge and told Biden that the US had also made mistakes.
Although Biden left the Middle East without obtaining an immediate Saudi Arabian commitment to increase oil production or widespread public backing for American efforts to forge a regional security axis that would include Israel, the trip was not a complete failure.
The iconic photo of the trip will be Biden’s fist bump with Prince Mohammed in front of the royal palace in Jeddah, but preparation for it took months. The decision to honour MbS with a visit divided White House officials, who were worried about how it would appear.
In the end, they came to the conclusion that maintaining the strategic links with Saudi Arabia that have endured 80 years was crucial for American interests and would aid both parties in turning the page.