Despite some awkward looks and facial expressions, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at first appearing to be rejected by Trump as he leaned in for a traditional Saudi kiss or at least warmer embrace (or perhaps he tripped?), MbS was placed prominently at the US president’s side, himself flanked by Turkey’s President Erdogan.
And further during the ‘family photo’ of leaders attending the G20 summit in Japan on Friday, Japanese Prime Minister and host Shinzo Abe was to MbS’ left.
Notably this comes just a week after the United Nations issued an over 100-page report finding “sufficient credible evidence” that the grisly Oct. 2 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was on the direct orders of the crown prince and other Saudi high level officials.
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) June 28, 2019
In the aftermath Erdogan and Turkish intelligence initiated a slow leaks campaign, with each detail and audio from the killing proving more embarrassing for MbS than the last.
What a difference half a year makes…
Last year’s cold shoulder at Buenos Aires as MbS was cast to the margins.
Weeks after Khashoggi was killed MbS was treated as persona non grata while attending the previous G20 meeting in Buenos Aires. But now it appears the heads of the so-called global community have embraced him after a brief ostracization period.
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Trump and MbS are set to hold a breakfast meeting on the sidelines of the G20 on Saturday, according to a White House statement, which comes amid a Congressional push to ban American arms sales to the kingdom, a bill which Trump has repeatedly vowed to veto.
The sit down meeting also comes during soaring tensions with Iran in which both Washington and Riyadh are spearheading allied “maximum pressure” efforts against Tehran in the gulf region, which has included a Saudi invitation to host more US troops on its soil.
Last Sunday Trump addressed the Khashoggi murder UN investigation when asked about it in a Meet the Press interview. The president’s response to the UN urging a FBI investigation was as follows according to the NY Times:
Mr. Trump said the episode had already been thoroughly investigated. He said the Middle East is “a vicious, hostile place” and noted that Saudi Arabia is an important trading partner with the United States.
“I only say they spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time, all money, all jobs, buying equipment,” the president told Chuck Todd, the show’s moderator. “I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them.’ And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.”
Given the symbolism of MbS’ prominent placement at G20 events, including being seated next to PM Abe during a round table discussion Friday, it appears that MbS – while still being essentially a “murder suspect” in an ongoing UN investigation – has “returned to the fold” of “acceptable” world leaders.