A high-five from Putin and an awkward photo: the high and the low for Saudi prince at G20 summit

Published December 3, 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin high-fives Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20. — File
Russian President Vladimir Putin high-fives Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20. — File

BUENOS AIRES: Russian President Vladimir Putin walked up to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at a summit of G20 world leaders, high-fived him and then shook his hand heartily. Moments earlier the prince had been pictured on the far edge of the traditional “family portrait” photograph, ignored by other leaders.

The two moments captured the dilemma facing world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires this weekend: how to deal with the crown prince, who is dogged by controversy over the murder of a Saudi journalist but is also de facto leader of a rich, oil-producing kingdom that is a major global investor.

To be sure, Putin’s exuberant greeting of the prince was seen as over the top and promptly went viral. But, while leaders appeared to ignore Prince Mohammed on stage during the “family photo”, many went on to have closed-door bilateral meetings with him during the two-day summit.

The Saudi government media office, in a statement responding to an earlier Reuters story about Prince Mohammed being sidelined in the photo, said he was standing “in the same proximity to the centre of the group” as in a similar photo at the G20 summit in China two years ago.

The crown prince, facing a global outcry over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two months ago, had conversations with at least 12 world leaders.

Three of them, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron, said publicly they had pressed Prince Mohammed for a full investigation into the murder.

Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of Khashoggi’s murder. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said the killing was ordered by the highest level of Saudi leadership but probably not King Salman, putting the spotlight instead on the 33-year-old crown prince.

Trudeau said he had a frank conversation with the prince at a leaders’ dinner on Friday, telling him there was “a need for better answers on the killing of Khashoggi”. May said she called for a full, credible and transparent investigation, while Macron insisted the crown prince allow international investigators to take part in any inquiry.

US President Donald Trump, who has defended US ties with Saudi Arabia, “exchanged pleasantries” with the crown prince, the White House said. Trump has said it may never be known if Prince Mohammed ordered the killing or not. Sources say the CIA believes the crown prince ordered the killing.

No discussion

The crown prince also discussed investments and economic partnerships with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Readouts of those meetings did not say whether Xi and Modi had confronted the prince over the Khashoggi case.

“China firmly supports Saudi Arabia in its drive for economic diversification and social reform, and will continue to stick together with Saudi Arabia on issues involving their core interests,” Xi said, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.

Modi and Prince Mohammed discussed scaling up investments in India’s tech, farm and energy sectors, according to an Indian official and the Saudi news agency.

Before the start of the gathering, Argentinian President Mauricio Macri had said it was possible that the accusations against the crown prince could be discussed when the leaders convened.

In the end, they were not.

Days before the summit, Human Rights Watch called on Argentina to use a war crimes clause in its constitution to investigate any involvement by the crown prince in possible crimes against humanity in Yemen, where a Saudi-led military campaign is under way, and Khashoggis murder.

The federal prosecutor’s office assigned to review the case had not announced whether a formal investigation would be opened by the close of the summit on Saturday.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2018

Opinion

Kashmir question
06 Mar 2021

Kashmir question

Every single spell of détente evaporates before our very eyes.
Inventing cultural nostalgia
06 Mar 2021

Inventing cultural nostalgia

Glorifying violence & conquest through fictionalised history will have devastating consequences for Pakistan.

Editorial

Vote of confidence
Updated 06 Mar 2021

Vote of confidence

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan’s decision to take a vote of confidence from parliament today is a bizarre move.
06 Mar 2021

PSL disaster

RAPID escalation in the number of coronavirus cases has led to the postponement of the Pakistan Super League’s...
06 Mar 2021

India ranking

WHILE India has often tooted its own horn as the ‘world’s largest democracy’ — being supported in this...
Ravi project
Updated 05 Mar 2021

Ravi project

THE assault by an enraged group of farmers on a provincial revenue team assigned to acquire land for the...
05 Mar 2021

Climate change

PAKISTAN received much less rainfall in January 2021 as compared to previous years, making it the 17th driest month...
05 Mar 2021

Antimicrobial resistance

WITH the focus on Covid-19, many health issues, though otherwise recognised as serious medical problems, tend to be...