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Biden says he challenged Saudi crown prince on Khashoggi's death

A photo made available by the Saudi Royal Court shows Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R), crown prince and deputy prime minister of Saudi Arabia meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Friday. Photo by Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Court/EPA-EFE
A photo made available by the Saudi Royal Court shows Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R), crown prince and deputy prime minister of Saudi Arabia meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Friday. Photo by Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Court/EPA-EFE

July 15 (UPI) -- U.S. President Joe Biden said he told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman he thought he was personally responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a meeting in Jeddah on Friday.

Biden said he brought up the issue during a working session with Mohammed and other ministers of the government at Al Salam Royal Palace.

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"With the 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 in a news conference after the meeting. "I made my view crystal clear. I said very straightforwardly, for an American president. To be silent on the issue of human rights is inconsistent ... with who we are and who I am.

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"What happened to Khashoggi was outrageous."

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Biden has been criticized for making Saudi Arabia part of his trip to the Middle East, because the crown prince is believed by Western intelligence to be directly responsible for the killing of Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018.

Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi writer and contributor for The Washington Post, was often critical of Saudi royal leadership. He was killed -- and intelligence agencies believe he was dismembered -- after he visited a Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork for his planned marriage. His remains have never been found.

While running for president in 2020, Biden said that he would treat Saudi leaders -- especially Mohammed -- as "pariahs."

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Biden, though, greeted Mohammed with a fist bump Friday ahead of their meeting.

Biden told reporters that Mohammed told him "that he was not personally responsible" for Khashoggi's death.

"I indicated that I thought he was," Biden said.

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Biden traveled from Israel to Saudi Arabia after a meeting earlier in the day with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

During his time in Israel on Thursday, Biden defended his decision to go to Saudi Arabia, emphasizing that failing to do so would be counterproductive and leave a leadership "vacuum" that might be filled by Russia and China.

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"My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear and I have never been quiet about talking about human rights," he said. "The reason I'm going to Saudi Arabia is to promote U.S. interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity to reassert our influence in the Middle East."

Biden on Saturday will participate in a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council with leaders from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt before he returns to the United States.

Biden also announced before leaving Israel on Friday that Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow flights from Israel. He said he hopes the decision will be a step toward better relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

"I will be the first president of the United States to fly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia," Biden said earlier Friday. "Saudi Arabia's decision can help build momentum toward Israel's further integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia. I will do all that I can, through direct diplomacy and leader-to-leader engagement, to keep advancing this groundbreaking process."

U.S. President Joe Biden visits Israel, Saudi Arabia

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Al Salman Royal Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. Photo courtesy of Saudi press Agency | License Photo

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