Saudi Crown Prince visits Europe for the first time since 2018

Saudi Crown Prince visits Europe for the first time since 2018
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The trip is Mohammed bin Salman’s first after the Khashoggi murder

In a sign that relations with the West are on the mend, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman touched down in Greece on Tuesday. He met with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and attended a signature ceremony for bilateral investment and defense agreements.

His next stop will be France, where he will be hosted by President Emmanuel Macron. The Saudi Press Agency reported that the Crown Prince would “discuss bilateral relations and ways to enhance them in various fields,” during his trip.

Bin Salman’s visit to Europe comes on the heels of President Joe Biden’s Middle East trip. During the trip, the US President also visited Jeddah for a summit of Arab leaders and had a tete-a-tete with Crown Prince bin Salman. 

The meeting officially marked the end of Biden’s campaign promise to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other human rights controversies. 

Khashoggi was brutally murdered and dismembered by Saudi agents in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in 2018. The murder resulted in the international condemnation of the Crown Prince, who steadfastly refused that he was involved with it.

US intelligence agencies determined that bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, had “approved” the operation that led to the killing of Khashoggi. Riyadh denies the allegations, instead blaming the murder on rogue operatives.

The murder of Khashoggi caused a rift in Turkey-Saudi Arabia relations. Ankara vigorously pursued the case, presented the gruesome details of the killing, and vowed to punish those who were responsible.

But that rhetoric is all but gone now. Mohammad bin Salman also received Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in April, with a complimentary trip to Ankara in June. An Istanbul court halted the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi suspects linked to the murder and transferred the case to Riyadh in April.

The rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and the West is partially related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Riyadh came under pressure by the US and the EU to increase oil production following a spike in energy prices in early 2022. The world’s biggest crude oil exporter refused to do so, citing commitments to production schedules determined by the exporting bloc OPEC+, which Saudi Arabia leads together with Russia. Western countries that accuse Russia of using energy as a political weapon are looking for alternative energy exporters to reduce their dependency on Moscow.