Biden dodges questions over raising Khashoggi murder with Saudis on Middle Eastern tour

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LONDON — President Biden skirted questions Thursday over whether he would raise the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi with Saudi Arabia's king and crown prince.

At a press conference with Israeli interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Biden was asked whether he would mention the 2018 murder during his visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday. The president responded by stating that his position on Khashoggi “has been so clear.” He added: “If anyone doesn’t understand it, in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, then they haven’t been around for a while.”

President Biden speaks in front of the Israeli and American flags.
President Biden in Jerusalem on Thursday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Khashoggi, a journalist for the Washington Post, was a harsh critic of the Saudi regime. In 2018 he was brutally murdered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Biden defended his visit to Saudi Arabia, which he said was to “reassert” U.S. influence in the Middle East. “I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum, a vacuum that is filled by China and/or Russia, against the interests of both Israel and the United States and many other countries,” he said.

Biden is expected to travel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday, where he will hold a meeting with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi officials.

Days ahead of the president’s trip to the Middle East, Khashoggi’s wife met with White House officials. Hanan Elatr Khashoggi received the invitation after sending a letter to Biden last month.

Speaking to NewsNation, Elatr Khashoggi said she hoped Biden would ask for the release of Saudi Arabia’s political prisoners. “That’s not a crime to say your opinion, advise your country and have some wishes about your country,” she said. “We deserve to have the freedom and democratic freedom to speak in the Middle East like any Western [person] in the streets of the U.K. or the U.S. or Denmark.”

A poster of a smiling Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi dress carries the hashtag #JusticeforKhashoggi.
A poster showing the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at an event at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2020, marking the second anniversary of his assassination. (Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images)

In 2020, on the second anniversary of Khashoggi's death, Biden accused the Saudi crown prince of orchestrating Khashoggi's murder and dismemberment in a statement. “His offense — for which he paid with his life — was criticizing the policies of his government,” Biden wrote.

“Jamal Khashoggi and his loved ones deserve accountability. Under a Biden-Harris administration, we will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom, end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil.”