Friday, as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US Vice President Joe Biden, greeted one another at a royal palace, an important meeting to repair one of the world’s most significant diplomatic ties began with a handshake. Saudi television captured the initial meeting as Biden exited his presidential limousine in Jeddah for a visit aimed at resetting their nations’ long-standing partnership.
There was no sign of affection among the leaders, and neither Biden nor the crown prince extended their customary backslaps or smiles to other leaders.
Biden has refused to interact with the presumed heir to the kingdom currently held by Prince Mohammed’s father, King Salman.
And he harshly condemned the oil-rich monarchy for its violations of human rights, including the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Since then, however, other concerns, such as rising gas prices and Iranian aggression in the Middle East, have taken precedence. Saudi Arabia simultaneously pursues investments to diversify its economy away from oil production and to bolster its security alliance with the United States.
At the airport in Jeddah, the Saudis gave Vice President Biden a muted welcome, without the pomp and circumstance that accompanied his visit to Israel this week.
Prince Khalid bin Faisal, the governor of Mecca, and Princess Reema bint Bandar, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States, greeted Vice President Biden. He then walked down a purple carpet to his limousine, which would transport him to the palace.
The president sat down with King Salman, an ailing 86-year-old monarch who has spent time in hospitals twice this year. Despite the fact that journalists were not permitted in the room, the Saudis released a video of Biden shaking hands with the monarch while the crown prince watched.
Biden and Prince Mohammed then held a larger meeting with a number of advisors. The fact that the two men were seated opposite one another enhanced the notion that they were polar opposites. MBS, the crown prince, has been eager to promote this image as he solidifies his succession by excluding, detaining, and confiscating the assets of royal rivals and detractors.
So far, his rise to power has ushered in a new era for the kingdom as it strives to develop its own military and arms industry, wean itself off oil as a source of income, and forge security ties to counter Iran.
The relationship between the 79-year-old US president and the 36-year-old Saudi prince may now determine the future of the region, including the potential for closer ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel and the fluctuations in the global oil supply.
A great deal of speculation had surrounded how Biden, who had pledged as a presidential candidate to treat the Saudis as “pariahs” for their human rights record, would approach his interaction with Prince Mohammed, both in terms of staging and content.