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Post slams Biden for 'classic non-denial denial' about Saudi Arabia trip

After denying reports from the Washington Post and New York Times of confirmed travel to the Kingdom, the Post slammed the president for issuing a "classic non-denial denial," a phrase the Post popularized during its coverage of Watergate

June 7, 2022 8:53am

Updated: June 7, 2022 10:18am

The Washington Post Editorial Board slammed President Joe Biden's waffling about whether he'll travel to Saudi Arabia in a Tuesday editorial, calling his comments a "classic non-denial denial."

The phrase originated in the early 1970's by the newspaper's reporters when describing non-committal responses from sources related to the Watergate incident. 

"White House officials have confirmed President Biden intends to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks. Though Mr. Biden cautioned Friday that he still has “no direct plans” for such a trip, that was a classic non-denial denial, issued perhaps because there are still last-minute details to be resolved," the newspaper opined.

"The bottom line is that, barring some unforeseen change, the president will significantly soften the U.S. posture toward the regime whose de facto head, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS), bears primary responsibility for the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — among other human rights violations — and which the president had previously promised, and attempted, to hold at a greater distance." 

On Friday, Biden denied reports by both the New York Times and Washington Post that he had decided to travel and meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who U.S. intelligence concluded ordered the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

“I’m not sure whether I’m going. I have no direct plans at the moment,” Biden said. “But let me tell you that I have been engaged in trying to work with how we can bring more stability and peace in the Middle East.”

But Politico reported Sunday that Biden and his inner circle have waffled on the decision “for nearly a month,” stuck between standing for human rights and asking bin Salman to increase oil production amid sky-high inflation and gas prices.  

Biden and his advisors have “agonized” for weeks over whether or not he should visit Saudi Arabia, who he campaigned against engaging during the 2020 elections, as gas prices continue to climb higher and higher, according to the New York Post.

Relations between Washington and Riyadh have been cold since then-candidate Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over the journalist’s killing. Biden continued to sideline the crown prince once elected, instead speaking directly to his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The presidency “should stand for something,” Biden argued.

Tensions erupted in September, when Bin Salman reportedly shouted at Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, when he raised the issue during a meeting at the crown prince’s palace.

Politico also reported that Biden was frustrated that his approval rating has fallen below that of Donald Trump, who he refers to as “the worst president in history” behind closed doors.

A White House spokesperson denied this, saying Politico’s “depiction of the White House is simply divorced from reality.”