By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
RIYADH (Worthy News) – U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday that Saudi Arabia had agreed to open its airspace to aircraft flying to and from Israel, but there were no signs yet that the Islamic kingdom would recognize the Jewish state.
“Today, I will be the first president of the United States to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. As we mark this important moment, Saudi Arabia’s decision can help build momentum toward Israel’s further integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia,” Biden explained earlier.
Biden also stressed that he raised the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi during talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The president’s visit was criticized as validating the Saudi government after the murder of the U.S.-based Saudi dissident journalist Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
The crown prince, accused by U.S. intelligence agencies of approving the murder, has denied wrongdoing. At the same time, Saudi prosecutors blamed “rogue” Saudi agents for the killing.
“With respect to the murder of Khashoggi, I raised it at the top of the meeting, making it clear what I thought of it at the time and what I think of it now,” Biden told reporters. “I said very straightforwardly, ‘for an American president to be silent on an issue of human rightsis inconsistent with who we are and who I am. I’ll always stand up for our values.”
Biden recalled that the crown prince claimed he was “not personally responsible” for the death. But “I indicated I thought he was,” the president said he replied. Before their meeting, Biden was pictured fist-bumping the crown prince, indicating apparent warming of relations between the two countries.
Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, condemned the president’s actions. She posted a photo of the two men on social networking site Twitter while imagining what her fiancé would have said: “Is this the accountability you promised for my murder? The blood of MBS’s next victim is on your hands.”
The publisher and CEO of The Washington Post newspaper, Fred Ryan, seemed to agree. “The fist bump between President Biden and Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was worse than a handshake -it was shameful. It projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.”
Khashoggi was a columnist for the Washington Post. But U.S. Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman lashed out at the fiancee, saying a relationship with Saudi Arabia is crucial as its oil supply to the market would save lives.
“The price of oil means people die in poor countries. It raises the price of food and fertilizer, and it means people die by the hundreds of thousands, not just from starvation but also from the disease the malnourished tend to acquire,” he told Britain’s BBC broadcaster.
“So it’s very easy for Mrs. Khashoggi [Hatice Cengiz] can say, ‘don’t worry about those hundreds of thousands of people who will die; avenge my fiance.’ You’ve got to be adults here.”
And Biden suggested that the talks and Saudi Arabia’s willingness to open up its air space to flights from and to Israel would help stabilize the region. A U.S. official close to the talks said Saudi Arabia would soon grant Israeli airlines unfettered overflight access and permit direct charter flights from Israel for Muslims participating in the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca.
Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace, does not recognize Israel and said nothing Friday of possible bilateral developments with Israel.
Despite the absence of official ties, Saudi Arabia reportedly agreed in 2020 to allow Israel-United Arab Emirates flights to cross its territory.
Bypassing Saudi Arabian airspace had added to flight times and increased fuel costs for several services.