Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly accused President Joe Biden of hypocrisy during their meeting in Jeddah on Friday, by asking why the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi seemed to matter more to him than the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh.
Biden, who had said during his campaign for the presidency in 2019 that Khashoggi was “murdered and dismembered… I believe on the order of the crown prince,” told reporters that he had confronted Prince Mohammed over the killing of the dissident Saudi journalist at the start of their meeting this week.
But, according to a Saudi official who spoke to the state broadcaster Al Arabiya, the prince contrasted Biden’s concern about the brutal murder of Khashoggi, a long-term resident of the United States, with his failure to hold Israel’s government accountable for the killing of Abu Akleh, an American citizen who was shot — according to witnesses and visual investigations — from an Israeli military convoy.
Ayman Mohyeldin of MSNBC also reported that a Saudi official told him that Prince Mohammed, known as M.B.S., denied that he had ordered the assassination, “the same way George Bush did not order the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.” The Crown Prince then asked, according to Mohyeldin’s source, why “with so many U.S. journalists killed, missing or detained,” including Shireen Abu Akleh, “the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was being politicized.”
Saudi state television was also careful to keep viewers inside the repressive kingdom from hearing Biden reiterate the C.I.A. conclusion that the Crown Prince had ordered the murder of Khashoggi by a Saudi hit squad in Turkey in 2018.
When Biden was asked during a news conference in Jeddah on Friday night how Prince Mohammed had responded to his comments about Khashoggi, Al Arabiya’s sister station Al Hadath cut away from its live broadcast so abruptly that its studio anchor and control room seemed to be caught off guard. After viewers heard Biden begin, “He basically said that he was not personally resp—” the picture jumped back to a startled anchor who took four seconds to start speaking. Then, when she did, her mic was not on.
A C-SPAN clip of the same moment from the news conference shows that what Saudi viewers nearly heard Biden say was: “He basically said that he was not personally responsible for it. I indicated that I thought he was.”
Earlier on Friday, Biden was confronted with images of Shireen Abu Akleh at a news conference in Bethlehem, because her colleagues in the press corps had reserved a seat for a photograph of the renowned Palestinian American journalist, and several wore T-shirts with a drawing of her face above the words, “Justice for Shireen.”
In a letter to the White House last week, Abu Akleh’s family had asked Biden to meet with them during his trip to the region, and expressed their anguish that the U.S. seems unwilling to press Israel to open a credible criminal investigation into her killing. Instead, the family has been invited to Washington by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
At the news conference in Bethlehem, standing alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Biden called Abu Akleh’s death a loss for the United States as well, and promised to “insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death.” His sincerity, in the eyes of many critics, was however undermined by his inability to pronounce Abu Akleh’s last name correctly.