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Biden gives Saudi Arabia’s MBS a hearty handshake at G20 meeting

NEW DELHI, India (AP) — The Saudi crown prince once vilified by US President Joe Biden has been elevated from a fist bump to a hearty handshake.

Biden warmly greeted Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Mohammed bin Salman, after they appeared together along with several other leaders at the Group of 20 summit Saturday in New Delhi. The leaders had gathered to announce an ambitious plan to build a rail and shipping corridor linking India with the Middle East and Europe.

Biden smiled and shook hands with the crown prince, who is often referred to by his initials MBS, as the announcement wrapped up. This year’s G20 host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, quickly draped his own hand over their hands.

The cordial greeting was a sharp contrast to the last time Biden and the crown prince met, just over a year ago, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. During that encounter, Biden awkwardly greeted the crown prince with a fist bump, a moment roundly criticized by human rights activists, who were already upset at Biden’s decision to meet with the Saudi leader.

Bin Salman has been harshly criticized for his human rights violations. US intelligence officials determined that the prince approved the 2018 murder of the US-based writer Jamal Khashoggi, who was a tough critic of the kingdom’s ruling family.

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Fred Ryan, who was publisher of The Washington Post at the time of last year’s Biden-Prince Mohammed meeting, said the fist bump “projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.” Khashoggi was a contributor to the newspaper.

File: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets US President Joe Biden, with a fist bump after his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022. (Saudi Press Agency (SPA) via AP)

Biden refused to speak to Prince Mohammed at the start of his administration. As a presidential candidate in 2020, Biden said he wanted to make the Saudis “pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are.”

But concerns about human rights eventually were eclipsed by other factors, including Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the volatile oil market after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and recognition by the Biden administration that the crown prince will likely be an important voice of one of the Middle East’s most important countries for years to come.