WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders criticized President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, saying it rewarded a dictatorship and should never have taken place given his leader’s involvement in the murder of a journalist.
Biden greeted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who US intelligence agencies believe ordered the 2018 assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with a fist bump shortly after he arrived for the visit.
“No, I don’t think so,” Sanders, an independent who meets with Democrats, said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos when asked if Biden should have made the visit.
“You have a leader of the country who was involved in the murder of a Washington Post journalist. I don’t think that kind of government should be rewarded with a visit from the president of the United States,” Sanders said.
The killing of Khashoggi, a Saudi member turned critic who had been living in self-imposed exile in Virginia, is a major point of contention between the two countries. Bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler, denies ordering it.
Biden said Friday that he told the prince that he held him responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. A Saudi official present at the meeting said the exchange did not go as Biden described it.
The trip was aimed at restoring relations with Saudi Arabia, which Biden had said he would isolate internationally. Its struggle to cut record gasoline prices this year has complicated the situation as the United States urges oil-producing nations to increase production to offset Russian losses following Western sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
As a presidential candidate, Biden had said the kingdom should become a “pariah” on the world stage because of Khashoggi’s murder. Sanders ran against Biden in the Democratic Party’s presidential primary.
Sanders said the United States should impose a windfall profits tax on oil companies instead of cuddling with Saudi Arabia.
“Look, you have a family that is worth $100 billion, that questions democracy, that treats women like third-class citizens, that murders and jails its opponents,” he said of the Saudi royal family.
“If this country believes in anything, we believe in human rights, we believe in democracy, and I just don’t think we should have a warm relationship with a dictatorship like that,” Sanders said.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Mark Porter)