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Tipsheet

Biden Claims He Blamed MBS for Khashoggi Murder. The NYT Isn't Letting Him Get Away With That Lie.

Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP

The New York Times called out President Biden on Saturday for claiming he told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman he believed him responsible for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

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“What was the Crown Prince’s response to your comments about Khashoggi?” a reported asked the president.

“He basically said that he was not personally responsible for it. I indicated that I thought he was,” Biden claimed. “He said he was not personally responsible for it and he took action against those who were responsible. And then I went on to talk more about how that, dealing with any opposition to the, or criticism of the Saudi administration in other countries was viewed as, to me, a violation of human rights.”

“How true is that?” The New York Times’s headline asked. The retelling of the closed-door meeting from the Saudi side explained the confrontation in a much less dramatic way than Biden.

The only hitch? That’s not the way it happened, according to Saudi officials. Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, who was present for the encounter, told reporters that he had not heard the president blame the crown prince. […]

Both sides had an interest in spinning the closed-door meeting. Mr. Biden has been denounced by rights groups, media organizations and politicians in both parties for meeting with the crown prince, who the C.I.A. says ordered the 2018 operation that killed Mr. Khashoggi, a United States resident and columnist for The Washington Post. By promoting how tough he was behind closed doors, the president clearly hoped to defuse some of the criticism for abandoning his campaign promise to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah.”

For their part, the Saudis were eager to present the meeting as a return to business as usual between the leaders of two longtime allies, and had every hope of minimizing the lasting import of the Khashoggi case. Mr. Jubeir confirmed to reporters that Mr. Biden had raised the matter but characterized it in less confrontational terms. [...]

In offering their softer version of what transpired between Mr. Biden and Prince Mohammed on Friday, the Saudis were not seeking to call out the president for misrepresenting it. In fact, they seemed anxious to avoid any perception of differences or tension. Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, told reporters that when it came to the Khashoggi case, the conversation “was candid.” The question was, how candid? (NYT)

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Biden, as the Times reminds readers, “has a penchant for embellishment."

He has often told the story of meeting President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in 2011 as vice president and telling him, “I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.” Others present at the time had no memory of that specific exchange.

Mr. Biden has similarly described an unvarnished confrontation in 1993 with Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian nationalist leader who unleashed an ethnic war in the Balkans. “I think you’re a damn war criminal and you should be tried as one,” Mr. Biden, then a senator, related having told Mr. Milosevic, according to a 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep.” Some other people in the room later said they did not recall that line. (NYT)

The president is also a serial liar, as Guy has reported, but in this case, however, it appears he was exaggerating his remarks to appear as though he was forceful enough about the issue. While he faced many critics for his trip, some of the sharpest comments came from Khashoggi's fiancee, who said Biden now owns the “blood” of MBS's “next victim."

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