President Joe Biden came face-to-face with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday and exchanged a fist bump with the kingdom’s de facto ruler, marking perhaps the most closely watched moment yet of the American president’s trip to the Middle East this week.
Neither Saudi Arabia’s King Salman nor the crown prince were in attendance at King Abdulaziz International Airport to meet Biden following Air Force One’s landing in the port city of Jeddah. Instead, Biden was received by various other Saudi officials including the governor of the country’s Mecca Province and the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
But upon Biden’s arrival at Al Salam Royal Palace, where he was scheduled to participate in a meeting with the king, the crown prince was on hand to greet the president as he stepped out of his vehicle. Biden and bin Salman then fist-bumped one another before walking inside.
That brief public interaction between the two leaders had been highly anticipated ahead of the Saudi leg of Biden’s Middle East trip. It was all the more notable after White House officials told reporters on Wednesday that Biden would seek to limit his handshaking while abroad as a precautionary measure amid an increase in cases of Covid-19 variants.
Still, Biden shook hands with and embraced several Israeli and Palestinian officials prior to arriving in Saudi Arabia, prompting speculation over how the president planned to address the crown prince — whom Biden pledged to make an international pariah during the 2020 presidential campaign.
Biden has weathered significant scrutiny for his decision to visit Saudi Arabia considering his past criticisms of the kingdom and the 2018 assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Last February, the Biden administration made public a U.S. intelligence report which found that bin Salman approved the operation that led to Khashoggi’s killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where Saudi operatives brutally murdered the U.S. resident and dismembered his body.