Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a highly enthusiastic greeting on Friday to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina. But other world leaders – except for Donald Trump – sharply rebuked the Crown Prince for his reported role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Prince Mohammed, on his first trip outside Saudi Arabia since the killing strained relations between the kingdom and western nations, was also literally sidelined at the official photo of participants. He then quickly exited the stage without shaking hands or talking with the other leaders.
Putin and Prince Mohammed shared a chummy, enthusiastic greeting, beaming widely and clasping hands in something of a cross between a handshake and a high-five. The crown prince patted Putin’s hand three times for emphasis as the two leaders took their seats next to each other.
Russia has refrained from criticizing Saudi Arabia or the crown prince over the killing. Putin said in October he lacked information about the matter and said Russia would not tear up its relations with Saudi Arabia because of it.
Putin and Prince Mohammed are due to hold bilateral talks on Saturday, according to Kremlin documents seen by Reuters. Putin and Prince Mohammed are among the two most controversial figures at the summit, having both come under international criticism recently, and they seemed to bond over the shared experience. In Putin’s case, it was about his country’s weekend seizure of Ukrainian ships and their crews near Crimea.
Putin’s friendly behaviour towards the crown prince was a lone exception to the greetings he received from other world leaders over the Khashoggi killing. Saudi Arabia says the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder.
French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May forcefully rebuked the crown prince, while Trump avoided him but said they might meet later in the weekend.
Macron told the crown prince that Europe would insist on international experts being part of the investigation into the murder of Khashoggi.
In a seemingly awkward and tense exchange, Macron pressed bin the Crown prince on the Khashoggi investigation and the Saudi-backed war in Yemen.
Prince Mohammed told Macron not to worry, but Macron replied, “I am worried.”
A French official said Macron confronted the crown prince as soon as he saw him enter, calculating that it was better to address his concerns than to ignore them or shun the prince.
“We were not going to play hide and seek for 48 hours, it wouldn’t make any sense,” the official said. “If we’re here and he’s at the table, let’s be frank and not indulgent. Things that need saying will be said.”
May urged Prince Mohammed to hold those responsible for Khashoggi’s murder to account and said he should take action to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, her office said on Friday.
“The Prime Minister stressed the importance of ensuring that those responsible for the appalling murder of Jamal Khashoggi are held to account, and that Saudi Arabia takes action to build confidence that such a deplorable incident could not happen again,” May’s office said in a readout of her meeting with Prince Mohammed.
May had earlier said that the investigation into Khashoggi’s killing must be full and credible.
Trump, who has made it clear that he doesn’t want to jeopardize the longstanding relationship between Washington and Riyadh, was asked if he had talked to the crown prince on Friday. He replied: “We had no discussion. We might, but we had none.”
A senior White House official said the two exchanged pleasantries.
However, Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya reported that Trump and Prince Mohammed had a friendly meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
The television channel did not give further details.
Al Arabiya also posted video on Twitter showing a cordial handshake between the crown prince and Chinese President Xi Jinping as the two held a bilateral meeting.