Biden won’t hold press conference after MBS meeting in Saudi Arabia
President Biden will not hold a press conference when he visits Saudi Arabia and meets killer Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the White House said on Wednesday – days after Biden insisted in an op-ed that “ fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad.
“We don’t have a press conference for Saudi Arabia. [Arabia]press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One en route to Israel for the first leg of Biden’s trip.
“But what we’re trying to do is try to make sure you hear the Saudi president [Arabia]on the balance sheets [bilateral meetings]during the trip, and make sure you hear directly from him.
When asked how the absence of a press conference aligned with Biden’s stated commitment to press freedom, Jean-Pierre reiterated that “we’re going to make sure you hear from him.”
“It’s press access,” she added, declining to provide details.
Biden’s two-day Saudi stopover amid high gas prices serves to legitimize the crown prince after US spy agencies determine he ordered the 2018 hit that resulted in the columnist’s murder of the Virginia-based Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi.
The president has denied arriving hat in hand to beg for oil from the prince commonly known as MBS, whose crew of assassins allegedly used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul . Biden insists he is simply going to Jeddah for a larger gathering of countries in the region.
Biden’s plan for limited press access inside one of the world’s last absolute monarchies follows a series of press access issues at home and on recent trips.
Biden has held far fewer press conferences and participated in fewer one-on-one interviews than his recent White House predecessors.
Biden has gone about four months this year without giving an official interview to a professional reporter. He sat down on Feb. 10 with NBC’s Lester Holt for an interview that aired during the network’s Super Bowl coverage, but then waited until June 16 to make his next meeting with The Associated Press.
Despite doing so few interviews at home, the president sat down with Israel’s Channel 12 on Tuesday to tape an interview that aired nationwide on Wednesday evening, hours after he arrived in the country.
In the interview, Biden lambasted far-left lawmakers who accused Israel of being an “apartheid” state.
“I think they are wrong. I think they are making a mistake,” Biden said. “Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally. Israel is a friend.
The White House, meanwhile, ignored a request from the White House Correspondents’ Association for an explanation of a secret screening process for reporters admitted to Biden’s major indoor events at the White House.
Biden staff for more than a year forced reporters to RSVP for indoor events and then hand-picked attendees, despite the fact that the relatively small White House briefing room has since returned to full capacity. COVID-19 restrictions in early June 2021.
Journalists believe the non-transparent screening process for Biden events at the White House is a way to shape the variety of questions Biden is asked and 73 reporters representing nearly two-thirds of the briefing room seats have signed a letter of June 30 asking Jean-Pierre to end the practice and restore historic standards allowing all journalists to attend events in the East Room and other large rooms.
The press corps letter, signed by Correspondents’ Association President Steven Portnoy, called the current practice “antithetical to the concept of a free press”.
Most of Biden’s press conferences have taken place during his overseas trip, but even that access has dwindled recently.
During his final trip abroad to last month’s NATO summit in Madrid, Biden frustrated reporters by rushing through a 27-minute presser – during which he called on just five reporters to ask questions. .
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, like Jean-Pierre, confirmed on Wednesday that there would be no Saudi press conference before adding that Biden will meet with members of the royal family, including King Salman and MBS.
Reporters were almost certain to ask Biden about the Khashoggi case with a presser in Saudi Arabia – offering Biden an opportunity to condemn the killing of the US resident, but also potentially scuttle his efforts to secure Saudi aid to drive down US gas prices, which sent Biden. approval rating as low as 33% amid 9.1% annual inflation.
Whether to hold a meeting with the crown prince has been hotly debated within the administration after Biden promised during his presidential campaign to make Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah’ over Khashoggi’s killing. .
Khashoggi’s fiancee called on Biden to call off the meeting last month, accusing him of “dishonouring himself” and “bringing the oil on principles” by agreeing to the meeting.
In an op-ed published by The Washington Post over the weekend, Biden defended the Saudi visit, writing, “As president, it is my job to keep our country strong and secure.
“We must counter Russia’s aggression, put ourselves in the best possible position to outperform China and work for greater stability in an important region of the world.” continued the president. “To do these things, we need to engage directly with countries that can impact these outcomes. Saudi Arabia is one of them”.
As Biden forges ahead with the meeting, the White House appears to be going out of its way not to look chummy with MBS — even avoiding a handshake.
When the president arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, he avoided handshakes with most Israeli leaders in favor of fist bumps — reportedly due to a spike in COVID cases in the US and state Jew, although he was spotted shaking hands with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and shaking hands with Holocaust survivors at the Yad Vashem memorial.
Jean-Pierre declined to confirm whether punching would also be the greeting practice used in Saudi Arabia.
“What we’re saying is we’re taking precautions,” she told reporters.
“Isn’t one of those precautions to shake hands?” asked a reporter.
“What I’m saying is we’re going to try to minimize…contact as much as possible where we can and so that’s what we’ll be focusing on on this trip,” the press secretary said. .
When the press pointed out that the president had participated in “very long handshake and selfie sessions” at the White House in recent days, Jean-Pierre continued to insist that “extra precautions” would be taken. abroad.
“While COVID hasn’t gone away, it’s still very much around,” she said, adding that further steps to protect Biden depend “on his doctor.”