Joe Biden publicly shook hands with Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit Saturday — after the president sustained a backlash last year for fist-bumping the crown prince, who U.S. intelligence believes ordered the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The leaders' latest interaction came in New Delhi, India, as they announced their respective countries’ participation in an international infrastructure and economic partnership to promote the new India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor.
“This is a game-changing regional investment,” Biden said at the event, as he thanked the world leaders flanking him. Biden is expected to meet with bin Salman during the G20 summit, which runs through Sunday.
Khashoggi was an opinion journalist for the Post who often wrote columns critical of the Saudi government. In 2018, after entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, he was found dismembered. The CIA, under the Trump administration, released a report that found bin Salman ordered the killing.
Following Biden's July 2022 meeting with MBS at Al Salam Royal Palace in Jeddah, which the president was partly using to raise U.S. energy priorities, Biden laughed off a reporter's question about the fist-bump greeting between them.
Fred Ryan, The Washington Post’s publisher at the time, called the interaction "shameful."
The continuing relationship between the two leaders has drawn fire from critics of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, which includes heavy religious restrictions, state-sanctioned torture and media repression.
Saudi Arabia and Russia both extended voluntary cuts to oil production through the end of the year on Tuesday, which drove a sharp spike in oil barrel prices to a peak not seen since last November. That tension could play into the 2024 U.S. presidential election if the cuts continue, given that energy policy and oil prices have been a dominant theme in political attacks of the Biden administration’s handling of the economy.
At the G20 event, Biden and bin Salman sat alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The economic partnership is seen as a counterweight to a Chinese-led infrastructure project, the New Silk Road, which stretches across Europe, Africa and Asia. Li Qiang, China’s premier and the country’s emissary at the summit, was not part of the G20 event.
“We aim to usher in a new era of connectivity with a railway, linked through ports connecting Europe, the Middle East, and Asia,” the White House said in a release. “The United States underscores our unwavering commitment to pursuing transformative regional investments and working to build out this corridor together with our partners.”